China has gained the rights to use the North Korean port of Chongjin on the East Sea. The move is part of a Chinese push for access to the East Sea.
According to the Yanbian Daily on Monday, the Yanbian Haihua Group signed a deal in Pyongyang on Sept. 1 and created a joint venture company to handle operation of the port. China holds a 60 percent stake in the company, while North Korea owns 40 percent.
The deal gives China the rights to use two wharves at Chongjin for 30 years, which are capable of processing 7 million tons of cargo a year.
China has long been eyeing North Korean ports to get maritime access for landlocked Jilin, Heilongjiang and Laioning provinces. "At present, the three northeastern Chinese provinces have about 13 million tons of cargo that need to be transported,” said Cho Bong-hyun of the IBK Economic Research Institute. “As the cargo volume grows, China will get more active in efforts to gain ownership of North Korean ports."
China has already negotiated access to North Korea's Rajin port in the Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone and also wants to use Sonbong in the special zone, Tanchon in South Hamgyong Province and Wonsan in Kangwon Province.
China mostly uses railways to transport various raw materials from the three northeastern provinces to the industrial bases in the east and south of the country. But access to North Korea's East Sea ports saves huge transportation costs. This is why the Chuang Li Group in Dalian, Laioning Province won the rights in 2008 to use the No. 1 wharf in Rajin, followed by rights to construct wharves No. 4, 5 and 6 there and use them for 50 years.
When the No. 1 wharf is refurbished and the other three wharves completed, China will be able to handle 6 million tons of cargo through them every year. Combined with the new wharves at Chongjin, the handling capacity will rise to 13 million tons a year.
But South Korean officials are skeptical how much progress these projects are making. Discussions over access to Chongjin port have been going on for some time, said Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Hyung-suk. "To our knowledge, there are still no concrete results."
Reports of China gaining access to Chongjin date back to 2010.
And a lot more still reportedly needs to be done for both sides to successfully push the projects through given their differences in opinions about the extent of the projects. "China wants to use the wharves merely for access to maritime ports, but North Korea wants Beijing to build massive industrial complexes around the ports," said one diplomatic source. "Such projects are often scrapped because the two sides are unable to reach agreement."
China also has to compete with Russia for use of Chongjin, since Russian companies have already entered the region. "North Korea intends to make Russia and China compete in order to get more investment," a government source here said.