A Chinese firm has signed a letter of intent to invest $2 billion in a North Korean industrial zone, representing one of the largest potential investments in Kim Jong Il’s authoritarian state and a challenge to U.S. policy in the region.
The agreement was signed with little fanfare in Pyongyang on Dec. 20—a day otherwise marked by pitched tension on the Korean peninsula following the North’s shelling of a South Korean island—according to documents viewed by the Wall Street Journal. Confirmation of the deal comes as Chinese President Hu Jintao visits Washington this week in a bid to forge closer security and economic ties with the U.S.
U.S. officials said the administration is aware of the possible Chinese investment, but noted that previous projects haven’t gone anywhere. “No investment project will enable North Korea to meet the needs of its people as long as its government continues its destabilizing behavior,” said a senior administration official.
The letter of intent involves China’s Shangdi Guanqun Investment Co. and North Korea’s Investment and Development Group. An assistant to the managing director of Shangdi Guanqun, who identified himself only by his surname, Han, said his company’s planned investment is focused on the Rason special economic zone, situated near North Korea’s border with Russia.
The zone was called Rajin-Sonbong when it was established in 1991, but failed to attract sufficient investment. It was revived, and re-named Rason, following a visit there in 2009 by Mr. Kim.
Mr. Han said the plan is to develop infrastructure, including docks, a power plant and roads over the next two to three years, followed by various industrial projects, including an oil refinery, over the next five to 10 years. He said the company was waiting for a response from the North Korean government before applying for approval from China’s Ministry of Commerce.
Full story: Chinese firm to invest in North Korea