Sino-NK Agreements

The rumor mill continues its inexorable churning as regards Chinese interests in North Korea.  The most astounding assertion (now parading as an established fact) is that China has promised to front almost $10 billion USD in investments in North Korea.  Yonhap put out the original report (no longer available, strangely enough), which is embellished here by the Korea Times and described a bit further on NK Economy Watch.

I don’t doubt that Chinese government leaders, fresh from a romp in the hay with business interests, would be willing to invest such massive funds in the DPRK, given China’s desire to see economic reforms take hold there.  But I’m skeptical of this report, because (as always) the source is unknown, it includes assertions of a big signing ceremony in March (which would be great for Chinese propaganda but not for the North Koreans) and because $10 billion USD is equal to about 35% of North Korea’s entire Gross Domestic Product.

So let’s talk about what we do know: Before he left Pyongyang, Chinese Ambassador to the DPRK Liu Xiaoming signed an agreement for library and educational publishing cooperation with the Grand People’s Study House (rendered as 人民大学习堂).  This series of photos and accompanying article say a lot about the actual status of Sino-North Korean relations, and of the relative power that China wields, and the restraint with which China “pushes” (more like “nudges”) its official culture into the DPRK.   It also reminds us that even in the middle of December (on the very day that missionary Robert Park took up another act of border obliteration, in fact!), even when hosting a Chinese delegation with photographer in tow, that Pyongyang’s best library does not turn on the heat.

Ambassador Liu Xiaoming and party listen to lecture/tour on the history of the People's Grand Study House -- courtesy PRC Foreign Ministry
4 Chinese on the right, tallest is Liu Xiaoming; 4 North Koreans on the left, shortest is Vice-Director Kim of the Grand People's Study House; image via PRC Foreign Ministry

It’s unlikely that the China Foreign Languages Publishing House is going to be making much money in Pyongyang, though.

So where is the money?  Show me the money! (And promises of future agreements don’t hold.  As Andrei Lankov says, until it’s in the Rodong Sinmun, it’s all just speculation.)

Fortunately we can find solace in an actual statistic reported by the Daily NK (in Chinese): since the North Korean currency revaluation of November 30, 2009, border security has tightened significantly, and the fee for crossing the border illegally from China into North Korea has consequently exploded, now reaching 10,000 RMB (about $1,500 USD).   So it looks like those census numbers in North Hamgyong (full 2008 DPRK census available as pdf. here; thanks to Curtis Melvin) will be staying stable.

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