By Kim Young-gyo
HONG KONG, June 20 (Yonhap) -- A Hong Kong conglomerate is likely to be tapped as a developer of a China-North Korea joint industrial complex on a North Korean island, a Chinese-language weekly said Monday, a move seen as deepening the North's economic reliance on its neighboring country.
Earlier this month, China and North Korea broke ground to develop Hwanggumphyong Island, which sits at the estuary of the Yalu River between two border cities, Dandong on the Chinese side and Sinuiju on the North's side.
The Economic Observer, one of the leading economy-focused newspapers in China, said it has exclusively obtained a document showing that Sunbase International Holdings Ltd., an investment conglomerate based in Hong Kong, will win exclusive rights to develop the border island.
The group, which reportedly has direct control over total assets of over HK$60 billion (US$9.3 billion), is recognized as one of the largest property management companies in Hong Kong and mainland China.
Gunter Gao, chairman of the board of Sunbase International, visited North Korea twice last year and had high-level meetings with North Korean government officials on the economic development of the island, the report said.
The newspaper earlier reported that the 56-year-old Hong Kong tycoon met Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the North Korean Supreme People's Assembly, before the groundbreaking ceremony of the joint economic zone. Gao is widely considered to have strong ties with politicians in mainland China.
Gao has long served as one of the Hong Kong members of the National Committee for Chinese People's Political Consultative, a political advisory body in mainland China.
Citing unnamed sources, the weekly said the North Korean authorities preferred Hong Kong entities rather than mainland Chinese firms as developers of the joint economic zone because Hong Kong companies are more open and international.
The economic cooperation between China and North Korea comes on the heels of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's weeklong trip to China in May when he studied the neighboring country's economic development. It was his third trip to China in just over a year.
Beijing has been trying to lure its impoverished ally to embrace the reform that lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty and helped China's rise to become the world's second-largest economy.
North Korea has been facing worsening food shortages and massive inflation, which has increased public anger in the country.
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