Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met with President Lee Myung-bak in Japan and explained that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's latest visit to China is aimed at getting him to understand and use China's economic development strategy. In other words, the key agenda of Kim's visit is the North's economic development.
The government announced sanctions against North Korea on May 24 last year, in response to the North's sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan, halting all trade and economic cooperation with the North with the exception of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The South also halted aid shipments of rice and fertilizer to the North. As a result, Seoul said it has achieved around US$300 million worth of economic sanctions against the North each year.
But the sanctions are losing their effectiveness as China boosts support to North Korea. Trade between China and North Korea, which amounted to $2.68 billion in 2009, rose 29.3 percent to $3.47 billion last year. This has also led to an increase in its trade dependency on China, which stood at 52.6 percent in 2009 but is expected to exceed 60 percent this year.
China has its own reasons for seeking to link Changchun, Jilin and the Duman (or Tumen) River region in its three northeastern provinces as part of its regional economic belt and connecting them to the East Sea through the North Korean port of Rajin-Sonbong, and is apparently investing heavily into the project.
But Chinese aid is making up for a large portion of the losses the North is suffering from the South Korean and international sanctions. As long as China refuses to re-evaluate North Korea's security and political value, Beijing's assistance looks set to continue. Here, opposition party lawmakers and leftwing groups are now saying Seoul should lift its sanctions since they have no effect. Some even say Seoul must not let the North fall under Chinese economic control.
But that would be tantamount to throwing away South Korea's integrity, given that North Korea killed South Korean sailors in the shipwreck and civilians on Yeonpyeong Island and has refused to take any responsibility for these actions. If the sanctions are not working, the government will have to come up with new measures to deal with the situation.