October 07, 2009 12:44
The construction of a major bridge over the Apnok or Yalu River is part of an economic partnership agreement China and North Korea signed on Sunday. At present, the only bridge connecting the two countries across the Yalu River is the Sino-(North) Korea Friendship Bridge built in 1943. The 66-year-old dilapidated, single-lane bridge, which has handled more than half of North Korea's trade with the outside world, symbolizes North Korea's closed and withered state.
China accounts for almost 70 percent of North Korea's trade volume. But for Beijing, the volume of trade with North Korea is negligible. From an economic standpoint, it is North Korea that needs a new bridge, yet it is China that proposed it and is footing the W150 billion (US$1=W1,170) bill. China made the offer two years ago, but North Korea has put off responding.
The primary reason was that the North feared its tightly sealed borders would be blown open by the winds of change and reform from China. But it seems to have been overwhelmed by China's strength as it can no longer survive without it.
Although still ruled by Kim Jong-il, North Korea is being sucked deeper into China's political, economic and military influence. It is no secret that the North Korean regime would be unable to last long if China were to close off its crude oil supply. People who have visited North Korea say advocates of close ties with China hold key positions within the Kim Jong-il regime.
China has already secured mining rights for North Korea's key mines, including Musan iron ore mine in North Hamgyong Province, Hyesan copper mine in Ryanggang Province and Yongdeung coal mine in North Pyongan Province. China is in charge of prospecting for offshore oil deposits on the West Sea and has won exclusive use of certain docks in Rajin port by either building or expanding them. China has also won the rights to fish in parts of North Korea's territorial waters and to develop the Yalu River. During the latest visit by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the two countries also signed agreements in the areas of food, energy, education and information and technology.
Yet China, which wields so much influence in North Korea, is not using it to the fullest in getting Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear weapons program. It does not want to endanger the North Korean regime, and there are many signs that Beijing believes the status quo is to its advantage.
China has bolstered its military presence on the Yalu River. It is obvious why. The future of the Korean people depends on whether North Korea chooses to abandon its nuclear ambitions and whether South Korea has the wisdom to accept the North as a partner in prosperity and use that relationship to achieve reunification. Failure to do that will deliver both Koreas straight into Beijing's strategic framework, where it will get stuck as a side show to China's golden age.
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