Hoping for Further Progress in the Tumen River Area Development Programme

|Korean Peninsula

In my last opinion paper, I touched upon problems relating to the connection of the Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR) and the Trans-Korean Railway (TKR); after writing that, I went onto the internet to follow up further developments. I happened to find an article entitled, “TRADP conference to be held on 3 June”. So this time I would like to write about what I thought when I read that article.

The article was distributed by China Unicom on 31 May, and said that the fifth meeting of deputy ministers from the five member countries of the TRADP – the ROK, the DPRK, Russia, China and Mongolia – would be held in Vladivostok on 3 June to “expand intended areas of development in the Tumen River area from the growth triangle connecting Chongjin in the DPRK, Yajin in China, and Nakhodka in Russia to encompass the whole of Northeast Asia, including Mongolia, the ROK and Japan, as well as persuade Japan to become a member of the committee and discuss measures to enlarge and develop the committee to create an economic consultative body for Northeast Asia”. It was also reported that Yoon Jin Sik, Vice Minister of the Ministry of Finance and Economy of the ROK and Kim Yong Sul, Chairman of the DPRK Committee for the Promotion of External Economic Cooperation were going to attend as chief representatives.

I was very interested in this article, because the media hardly reports news on the Tumen River Area Development Programme nowadays, probably due to a decrease in interest. I looked at ERINA’s homepage, as I was wondering when the last conference was held. I found out that the fourth meeting was held in Ulaanbaatar in June 1996. If this year’s conference was the fifth as stated in the report, it will actually be the first time in six years that the intergovernmental meeting at vice minister level has been held.

I mulled over why the TRADP intergovernmental meeting of the five member countries should be held at this particular time. My conclusion is that it may reflect the fact that the political framework surrounding the governments concerned has changed greatly in the last few years, and the atmosphere and terms for discussing the Tumen River Area Development Programme have gradually been put in place on a new basis that differs from the one in existence previously.

The stances of the Chinese and Russian governments regarding Northeastern China and Far Eastern Russia have changed, as has the situation on the Korean Peninsula, as a result of the summit meeting and Joint Declaration between the ROK and the DPRK, as well as the establishment of trust arising from the development of diplomatic links between the leaders of the DPRK and China, and the DPRK and Russia. Recent progress in the relationship between the DPRK and Russia may be one of the symbols of this change. I have sensed a more positive posture on Russia’s part and suspect that this might have had more than a little influence on the timing of the TRADP intergovernmental meeting of the five member countries.

It will be necessary to evaluate the actual content of the meeting through reports after the event, however, if the content of the report was based in fact, TRADP could potentially resurface and step into the limelight. In addition, given the closer relationship between the DPRK and Russia, the participation of the DPRK, which was absent from the fourth meeting in Ulaanbaatar, has been the focus of attention. At the same time, it will be interesting to see the degree to which progress has been made on the issue of Japanese official participation as a TRADP committee member, which has been up in the air for so long.

Just around the same time, the soccer World Cup finals co-hosted by Japan and Korea started and friendly atmosphere between the two countries was at its peak. At a joint press conference when he visited Seoul a little beforehand, Prime Minister Koizumi appealed for a closer relationship between the two countries, quoting the Korean proverb best translated as, “It takes two to tango”. However, in contrast to this, Japan has yet to break free of its tendency to insist on playing safe or discard its “entrance theory” about the TRADP. I have thought for a long time that, although there are many difficulties, a better way to solve problems would be to start with an “exit theory” of realizing exchange and cooperation by respecting each other and making step-by-step progress by enhancing understanding and trust. It is exactly the same as the Korean saying used by Prime Minister Koizumi.

In this regard, I think that Japan, as part of the Northeast Asian region, may have reached a stage at which it will adjust its stance by positively accepting a change in circumstances, solve longtime concerns by itself and become actively involved at governmental level. In any case, I expect the TRADP to progress further.

Finally, this is at a bit of a tangent, but I would like to outline the latest movements in the relationship between the DPRK and Russia.

The DPRK’s Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun visited Russia from 21 to 23 May 2002. It is reported that at the meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov in Moscow, they selectively discussed such issues as the improvement of the DPRK’s relationship with the ROK and the U.S., support for the establishment of a nuclear energy plant, the connections of the TKR and the TSR, and the expansion of infrastructure, including ports. A plan of interaction for 2002-2004 was signed by the foreign ministers of the two countries. Foreign Minister Paek also had a meeting with Sergei Darkin, Governor of Primorskiy Krai, in Vladivostok on his return journey.

Prior to Foreign Minister Paek’s visit to Russia, a mission for economic exchange led by Vice Premier Jo Chang Dok paid a visit to Primorskiy krai and Far Eastern Russia, including Amur and Khabarovsk, from 4 to 12, April. It is reported that various matters were discussed with the Russian side, including the enlargement of cooperation in the fields of construction, forestry and agriculture, the expansion of DPRK-Russia trade, the revitalization of transit cargo via Rajin Port, cooperation in oil refining at Sungri Petrochemical Plant, the expansion of infrastructure such as Rajin Port, assistance in modernizing coal mines, and a plan for laying optical cable between Vladivostok-Khasan-Rajin, all of which will be handled by the Committee for the Promotion of International Trade of the DPRK and the Russian Far East Investment Company, which was established with investment from the government of Primorskiy krai. It is said that it is for this reason that an office for representatives of the Russian side will be set up in Pyongyang in the second half of this year.

As can be understood from the above, it can be guessed that most of the proposals discussed between the DPRK and Russia are mainly being pursued in Far Eastern Russia. I hope that in future, these movements will have a positive impact on the promotion of the TRADP and Northeast Asian economic cooperation, which are closely linked to each other in regional terms.

[Translated by ERINA]