Kim Jong-il's Tour of Chinese Business Centers Is Pointless

      May 06, 2010 12:39

      North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visited the new economic zone of Binhai on the outskirts of Tianjin on Wednesday, the third day of his visit to China. Earlier this week, Kim was in the port and financial center of Dalian in Liaoning Province on Monday and Tuesday. Kim spent half of his trip visiting major industrial sites in northeastern China before arriving in Beijing to meet the leadership.

      Kim has now visited China five times and toured special economic zones on three of those trips. In Shanghai in 2001, he said the city "has made incredible changes. It proves that the reforms and market-opening measures of the Chinese Communist Party were right." In 2006, he toured the Three Gorges Dam in Wuhan, as well as high-tech industrial complexes and ports in Guangzhou and Shenzen. And indeed, for a while he attempted to implant China's economic reform strategy in his own country by announcing limited market-opening measures in 2002 and seeking to open a special economic zone in Sinuiju, but those steps were soon reversed.

      The main reason his attempts failed is because Kim tried to create isolated pockets of foreign investments but refused to overhaul the political system in the world's most reclusive country. He merely caught glimpses of the extravagant external appearance of China's special economic zones but failed to grasp the determination and vision of China's leaders, who pursued capitalist measures that were often bolder than those in many Western countries.

      Dalian and Tianjin are close to North Korea and could serve as models for the North Korean border town of Sinuiju and the northern port city of Rajin-Sonbong. But once again chances are slim that Kim will choose to save his country by opening its markets and undertaking economic reforms.

      Only last month, North Korea announced it would confiscate W360 billion (US$1=W1,116) worth of property and assets owned by the South Korean government and businesses in the scenic resort of Mt. Kumgang, including a reunion center for families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War. The move came in response to the South Korean government's refusal to resume tours to North Korea following the shooting death of a tourist at the resort. No company in the world would be willing to do business with a country like North Korea. Even for China, North Korea is anything but an attractive investment destination.

      If Kim Jong-il truly wants to pursue economic development, he should not be touring China's economic strongholds. The surest way for him to develop his backward country would be to turn to South Korea, which rose from the ashes of the war to become one of the world's top 10 economies over the shortest period of time in the world.

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