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N. Korean official says no piers for China at special trade zone

All Headlines 14:51 May 02, 2014

BEIJING, May 2 (Yonhap) -- Chinese companies have not leased piers at a port of North Korea's free trade zone, a Pyongyang official has told Hong Kong media, raising speculation that the shock execution of the North Korean leader's uncle might have soured business ties with its key ally.

China reportedly agreed to invest about US$3 billion in developing the free trade zone in North Korea's northern tip of Rason, formerly known as Rajin and Sonbong, in late 2011. The special trade zone sits across the border from China's northeastern Jilin province.

There have been media reports that Chinese companies have leased two piers at the Rason port, but Kim Chun-il, a division chief of the port's foreign business bureau, denied such reports during an interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV.

Asked by a Phoenix TV journalist whether China won the right to exclusively use two piers at the port, Kim replied in Korean, "There are no piers that are specially used by the Chinese side."

"They (Chinese people) have said so, but we have never formally rented out Pier 1 and Pier 2 to them," Kim said.

The interview was made during a 72-minute special TV program on the Rason trade zone, which was aired on April 19. The program's video footage can be seen on the website of Phoenix TV.

Kim said that Russia leased the Pier 3 at the port, adding that North Korea plans to modernize the two piers on its own.

Since Jang Song-thaek, the once-powerful uncle and political regent to North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un, was executed in December last year on charges including treason and corruption, Chinese experts have privately raised concerns that the fall of Jang could affect economic ties between North Korea and China.

Jang had been considered an advocate of Chinese-style economic reforms and was in charge of key business projects with China.

Among a myriad of accusations announced by North Korea's state media at the time of the execution, Jang was accused of selling "coal and other precious underground resources at random. Consequently, his confidants were saddled with huge debts, deceived by brokers."

"Jang had no scruples about committing such act of treachery in May last as selling off the land of the Rason economic and trade zone to a foreign country for a period of five decades under the pretext of paying those debts," the North's statement said.

Although it is uncertain whether the "foreign country" points to China, the fact remains that Rason economic zone was jointly developed by China.


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