City weathers sanc­tions stress

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Front Page -

Af­ter clear­ing cus­toms at Hunchun, Jilin prov­ince, 12 trucks loaded with fresh king crabs from Rus­sia car­ried on their jour­neys to the many com­pa­nies in the city that trade in ma­rine prod­ucts.

One truck’s des­ti­na­tion was Yan­bian Best In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment, where CEO Wu Han­shan was wait­ing to in­spect his cargo.

“Th­ese king crabs were off­loaded at the Port of Zaru­bino in Rus­sia just six hours ago, and now they’re in China. Within 18 hours, they can be in Bei­jing,” he said, as he lifted a crab weigh­ing about 5 kilo­grams from a hold­ing pond.

Hunchun, the only Chi­nese city that bor­ders both Rus­sia and the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea, does not have a sea­port but is only 63 kilo­me­ters from Zaru­bino in Rus­sia’s Far East.

As the vol­ume of prod­ucts shipped from the Rus­sian port has sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased this year, es­pe­cially tim­ber and fresh ma­rine prod­ucts, it has be­come com­mon for bor­der in­spec­tion and cus­toms of­fi­cials in Hunchun to work over­time so that goods can en­ter China with­out de­lay, said He Yong, deputy di­rec­tor of the city’s port man­age­ment and de­vel­op­ment com­mit­tee.

China’s de­ci­sion to launch its re­form and open­ing-up pol­icy in 1978 has trans­formed Hunchun, whose econ­omy de­pends heav­ily on cross-bor­der trade, and the sur­round­ing Yan­bian Korean au­ton­o­mous pre­fec­ture.

“At the be­gin­ning of open­ing-up, Hunchun only had one land port, with the DPRK. Now it has two ports with the DPRK and two with Rus­sia,” He said. “The vol­ume of goods pass­ing through the ports is ex­pected to reach 3 mil­lion met­ric tons this year, about 75 times that of the early 1990s.”

In Au­gust and Septem­ber last year, the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil im­posed sanc­tions on the DPRK to ex­ert eco­nomic pres­sure af­ter the na­tion’s mis­sile test in July that year.

The sanc­tions banned the ex­port of coal, iron, lead and seafood, and lim­ited im­ports of crude oil and re­fined petroleum prod­ucts. As a re­sult, al­most all cross-bor­der trade be­tween Hunchun and the DPRK has been halted, ac­cord­ing to He.

The vol­ume of goods pass­ing through the ports with the DPRK in the first 10 months of this year dropped by more than 90 per­cent year-on-year, he said.

How­ever, the sanc­tions did not halt con­struc­tion of a new, larger in­spec­tion and cus­toms build­ing at the Quanhe port with DPRK, on the bank of the Tu­men River.

Be­fore the slow­down in trade, the old cus­toms fa­cil­ity, in use since 2000, had been strug­gling to cope with the ris­ing trade vol­ume, said He, who added, “No mat­ter what changes hap­pen in the in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment, we need to be ready to fa­cil­i­tate open­ing-up.”

While the sanc­tions still over­shadow trade with the DPRK, the vol­ume of goods pass­ing through Hunchun’s ports with Rus­sia from Jan­uary to Oc­to­ber in­creased 13.3 per­cent year-on-year.

Wu’s com­pany also runs an iron ore mine in the DPRK. Op­er­a­tions were sus­pended af­ter the UN sanc­tions took ef­fect, and the com­pany turned to im­port­ing ma­rine prod­ucts from Rus­sia. “There is noth­ing we can do but wait and look for other busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Wu said.

Zaru­bino Port is ex­pected to play a key role in the fur­ther re­form and open­ing-up of the city and North­east China, ac­cord­ing to Zhang Liang, deputy di­rec­tor of Hunchun’s ma­rine af­fairs bureau.

“Be­sides us­ing Zaru­bino to ship more goods from China to other coun­tries, such as the Repub­lic of Korea, we have also started to use it to ship goods to 14 ports in China,” he said.

Now goods from North­east China such as grain can leave Hunchun bound for Zaru­bino, where cargo ships can trans­port them to south­ern Chi­nese ports like Ningbo in Zhe­jiang prov­ince, sav­ing trans­porta­tion costs and time, Zhang said.

Poor in­fra­struc­ture at the Rus­sian port has lim­ited its ship­ping ca­pac­ity. To solve the prob­lem, the Jilin gov­ern­ment and Rus­sia’s Summa Group signed a co­op­er­a­tive agree­ment in 2014 to de­velop Zaru­bino Port, with up­grades ex­pected to al­low it to han­dle 60 mil­lion tons of cargo a year. Zhang said the port is ex­pected to fo­cus on grain, con­tainer traf­fic and alu­mina.

In July last year, China and Rus­sia signed a me­moran­dum of co­op­er­a­tion on two trans­port cor­ri­dors, in­clud­ing the one con­nect­ing Hunchun and Zaru­bino.

Open­ing-up has also made Hunchun a pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion among Rus­sians. Many shops in the city now have signs writ­ten in both Korean and Rus­sian.

More Rus­sians are com­ing to shop or seek med­i­cal care, ac­cord­ing to bus driver Sun Mingyu, 40.

“I’ve wit­nessed how open­ing-up has grad­u­ally trans­formed the city and, more im­por­tantly, peo­ple’s lives,” he said. “It may sound like show­ing off, but now fresh king crab im­ported from Rus­sia has be­come a com­mon dish on Hunchun din­ner ta­bles at Spring Fes­ti­val.”

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