Korean Endgame: A Strategy for Reunification and U.S. Disengagement

By Selig S. Harrison | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Gold, Oil, and the Basket-Case Image

THE STEREOTYPICAL image of North Korea as a hopeless economic basket case ignores the fact that there are extensive natural resources there. Gold, iron ore, anthracite coal, zinc, lead, magnesite, and tungsten mines have been operating in Korea for centuries, most of them in the northern part of the country. Since the creation of North Korea, these mines have provided the major source of Pyongyang's foreign exchange earnings. Production has declined or stopped altogether at many of them since 1990, reflecting the economic dislocations resulting from the termination of Soviet and Chinese aid, especially the breakdown of transportation links with the mountainous mining areas. One of Pyongyang's major goals following the removal of U.S. sanctions is long-term collaboration with U.S. and other foreign mining companies to modernize existing mines and to find and extract undeveloped mineral resources, with payment in minerals. Pyongyang also hopes that the removal of sanctions will lead to stepped-up petroleum exploration. Preliminary geological studies suggest the possibility of significant oil and gas reserves, especially along the west coast on the North Korean side of the Yellow Sea, where China has already found oil in the Bo Hai Gulf not far from where Pyongyang wants to encourage drilling.


GOLD: HOW MUCH IS LEFT?

In the case of gold, North Korea clearly has substantial reserves, though how much is left after past mining activities remains to be determined. China established gold mines in Korea as early as 1122 b.c., and an Arab traveler to the peninsula in the ninth century a.d. wrote that “gold abounds in this mountainous country.” In 1897, when King Kojong, the last monarch of the Yi dynasty, parceled out economic concessions to appease the competing foreign powers contending for supremacy in Seoul, he gave the biggest gold mine to the American-controlled Oriental Consolidated Mining Company and lesser mines further north to Russia. At first, Japan did not disturb the American concession at Unsan during its colonial rule of Korea because it lacked the technology needed

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