Rason, Hwanggumpyong, economic development zones, Beijing's Northeast Project, denuclearization
Economic cooperation between China and North Korea is operating at unprecedented levels. Unlike the past, when economic and trade relations between North Korea and China were on a small scale and sponsored mostly by regional governments, today's economic ties involve large-scale economic zones developed jointly between the central governments of both countries. Such burgeoning ties have inevitably raised mixed feelings in South Korea, where opinion is divided in two camps1. One camp is skeptical about China's rising influence over the Korean peninsula; the other is optimistic that China's increased involvement will spur openness and reform in North Korea.
Skeptics point to Beijing's "Northeast Project" -an academic attempt to claim early Korean kingdoms as Chinese, and Pyongyang's increasing dependence on China as a prelude to Chinese dominance over Korea. Such concerns have been used to buttress arguments for better inter-Korean relations (including economic cooperation), as well as stronger ROK-US relations.
The optimists believe that Pyongyang's dependence can expand Beijing's influence over North Korea and its ability to manage its problems, while providing opportunities for North Korea to learn market practices from China's business community. Such bottom up social change can, in the optimists' view, spur major changes over the long term.
At the moment, however, the skeptics are gaining ground in South Korea. For them, China is mostly a negative factor on the Korean peninsula, and dealing with Beijing is a matter of containing and minimizing its influence.
This article accordingly attempts to analyze the DPRK-PRC development projects at Rason, on the East Sea near Russia, and Hwanggumpyong, an island at the mouth of the YaIu River. This paper examines the significance of these projects as barometers for relations between the DPRK and the PRC, and suggests possible future developments for these projects.
DETAILS AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE JOINT DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS
Pyongyang and Beijing agreed on plans to build economic development zones at Hwanggumpyong and Rason during Kim Jong-IPs visits to China in 2010 and 2011. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the two projects included 180 officials at the deputy director level or higher from both countries workers' parties, as well as officials from their respective foreign relations departments, economic agencies, and local governments.
North Korea launched the Committee of Investment and Joint Ventures as an operations body for the projects in July 2010, and along with China's Ministry of Commerce, signed the "Agreement on Joint Development and Management of the Rason Economic and Trade Zone and Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa Islands Economic Zone" in November of the same year.
To ensure the successful realization of the projects, Pyongyang and Beijing set up the "DPRKPRC Joint Guidance Committee" at the central government level and drafted the "Outline of the DPRK-PRC Joint Development Plan for the Rason Economic and Trade Zone and Hwanggumpyong Economic Zone" in February 2011. For Wihwa Island, both countries agreed to conduct a feasibility study considering the high level of geological risk involved.2 This series of steps marks the first time the central governments of the two countries have agreed to jointly develop special economic zones.3
The plan in question goes beyond basic economic cooperation and includes principles of comprehensive planning, government guidance, joint development, and business orientation. More significantly, the plan makes references to "market operation, complementation, and mutual benefits and co-prosperity."4 The agreement reflects the commitment by both countries to the successful realization of the projects and their resolve to ensure that …