Kim Jong-Il in the bridegroom role

What is to be preferred: Russia or China?

Kim Jong-Il visited Russia for the first time exactly a year ago. The North Korean leader has been making his tour of Russia’s Far East in a bulletproof train for several days already. Unlike during the previous visit, this time no long trips were organized throughout whole of Russia to Moscow. Last year extraordinary security measures were taken in Russia on the route of Kim Jong-Il’s way to Moscow, that at the same time caused much inconvenience to Russian passengers and railway workers because there were many delays at the railway.

Details of the current visit are very interesting. Kim Jong-Il explained why he preferred a train to a plane for visiting Russia last year. He did it not because he was afraid of travelling by plane, he only desired to see more of Russia, that is certainly better in a train. The North Korean leader said he would soon travel by plane. By the way, this probably means some change for the best in Kim Jong-Il’s attitude.

Objectives of the visit are worth much interest. A North Korean delegation visited many enterprises of Russia’s Far East, special attention was focused on defense establishments, on an aircraft construction enterprise in Komsomolsk-in-Amur where war planes are produced. It is not clear whether accidentally or not, but yesterday the USA blamed Pyongyang for missile supplies to Yemen and imposed sanctions on North Korea.

Today the North Korean leader met with Russia President Vladimir Putin, special attention was paid to connection of the Trans-Korean and Trans-Siberian railways. This is currently the most important project for several reasons. After connection of the two railways, freight from South Korea will be sent to Europe by land, not by sea, that is to make transportation quicker (13-18 days instead of 34) and cheaper. According to estimates of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, realization of the new project can bring Russia up to $3 billion per year. Advantage of this project is evident as currently Russia gets only $1 billion from freight transit on all railways of the country.

An agreement on joint realization of the project was achieved by Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Il at a meeting in the Kremlin on August 4, 2001. However, little progress was achieved in the sphere within the past year. It is not easy to push Pyongyang to start realization of the project. To tell the truth, the project is not so much agreeable for China. It is not ruled out that after connection of the two railways freight transportation will go bypassing China, and the project consequently turns out to be not paying for Beijing. Moscow understands perfectly well that China won’t give up its share of profit. Vladimir Putin knows that if the two railways are not connected, this may be done via China’s territory, and it is China that will gain profit.

However, it will take much effort for Russia to start realization of the project, because of the influence China exerts upon North Korea. By the way, Kim Jong-Il is a more frequent guest to China than to Russia. That is why reforms started in North Korea resemble so much reforms carried out in China. The reforms suppose liberalization of the economy under remaining severe political control of the ruling regime.

On the other hand, Kim Jong-Il is unlikely to welcome excessive dependence upon Beijing. Russia is the only country in this case to help North Korea avoid such dependence. For the time being, at least.

On the whole, the second visit of the North Korean leader to Russia’s Far East is a success. Time will show whether the visit will bring some considerable results.

Vasily Bubnov PRAVDA.Ru

Translated by Maria Gousseva

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