Monday, March 26, 2007

Business As Usual on the PRC-DPRK Border

A piece in the Digital Chosun Ilbo, describing trucks headed from Dandong (PRC) to Shinuiju (DPRK) across the Friendship Bridge (over the Yalu River), mirrors reporting we've seen in the past about activity on the border (namely that customs procedures are as lax as they were prior to the DPRK's nuclear test last October).

It also notes DPRK officials are eager to attract tourists and that a Chinese travel company in Dandong has inked a deal to sell day tours to Shinuiju and week-long trips to other destinations including Pyongyang and Mt. Kumgang. Tourists are, apparently, already being admitted to some locations without passports. To accomodate the expected increase in tourism, the DPRK is even building a dedicated passenger terminal in Shinuiju.

And, as in other pieces, we have reports that Pyongyang is encouraging economic development. "Sources acquainted with North Korean affairs" and a "source in Beijing" are quoted in the story. One, having returned from Pyongyang, reports that "banners encouraging economic development have replaced nuclear-related slogans in the cities." The piece concludes by suggesting that the DPRK has designated some areas as tourist/development zones and is even working on a "bill on investors’ use of land" to encourage investment.

The kicker? One source notes, "The North will make the plans public after watching how the six-nation nuclear talks develop." Of course!

Nothing contained in the article was new or even surprising. It forced me to think, though, about why these articles continue to appear (I won't say every time there's hope in the 6PT, but I've noticed it happening a couple of times over the past few years).

Are they, in part, an indication of a general sense of hope in South Korea that things will work out and the North will reform? Are they part of an effort, conscious, subconsious, or subconscious/societal trying to engender patience & hope in the process in an outside audience? (My assumption...because the piece was carried in the paper's English version. I obviously can't confirm whether or not the piece was carried in the Korean version of newspaper, but my understanding is that the content is usually seperate and tailored to its audience...not a literal language to language translation.)

Are we so ignorant of developments in Pyongyang that sources such as those quoted in the newspaper are considered legitimate or the best source of information? Is this piece to be taken seriously or should it be considered "fluff"? (It would not be the only newspaper that produced an online, foreign language...English that is...version for such a purpose.)

I'm making a conscious effort to take what was reported at face value. However, the article seems overly optimistic to me. Moreover, I'm curious if the trade described is legal. What restrictions currently exist on trade with the North? The article gave no sense as to whether the trade being noted was illicit or above board.

No comments: