Electricity At Last For Rason?

Near Sariwon
Near Sariwon

Is the last piece of Rason's infrastructure puzzle about to slide into place? This week reports emerged that on the Chinese side “land requisition, house demolishing and relocation, and erection of power line” was “by and large completed” to provide power to Rason Special Economic Zone from Jilin province. The plan to import electricity into Rason from the Chinese grid has been rumored for at least five years but if this week's news holds, it appears things really will start moving in June. Still, until I actually see pylons straddling the Tumen river...

Meanwhile, two pieces of news regarding Rason's soft-infrastructure or business environment were also reported this week.

In Beijing a seminar to understand the special economic zone laws of the DPRK was held. There, the organizers unveiled a guidebook that was created to to help Chinese investors understand the laws governing SEZs.

Meanwhile, some reports suggest that Rason has come under serious scrutiny as the authorities seek to ensure loyalty in the wake of the Jang affair. The rumor is that an investigative team of around 100 people has arrived in the city. Yet by all accounts there is a  high degree of continuity with projects from last year, even as Beijing-Pyongyang relations have reached an all-time low. In fact, not far from Rason, in the midst of December's drama, Tumen City in Jilin province pledged resources to help develop another special zone just across the river in Onsong.

Overall, perhaps we might say that Rason is a microcosm example of the so-called Asian Paradox, in which geopolitics and economics seem less interrelated than liberal theory would suggest.

Rason, like much of the DPRK, suffers from dilapidated energy infrastructure. In the countryside, more and more individual wind or solar energy equipment is visible – a solution for individual households, perhaps, but nowhere near what industrial growth demands. Choson Sinbo reports this week that there is a new push to attract investment in renewables.