No Chinese Naval Base in N. Korea, Experts Say
BY WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI - Fears that China will establish a naval presence at a port facility at North Korea's Rajin Port appear unfounded.
An agreement with a Chinese company to lease a pier at Rajin for 10 years was reported by the Chinese state-controlled Global Times on March 10.
The Chuangli Group, based at Dalian in China's Liaoning province, invested $3.6 million in 2009 to rebuild Pier No. 1 and is constructing a 40,000-square-meter warehouse at the port. The leasing agreement has given way to suggestions China could be attempting to establish its first naval base with access to the Sea of Japan.
The North Korean Navy does use Rajin as a base for smaller vessels, such as mine warfare and patrol vessels, but for the time being, it appears economics are the primary motivation for the Chinese company's presence there, said Bruce Bechtol, author of the book "Red Rogue: The Persistent Challenge of North Korea."
"Chinese investment has increased a great deal in North Korea in the past five years," he said. "It would not be a military port for the Chinese - as the North Koreans would be unlikely to ever allow such a thing." He noted there are no Chinese military installations in North Korea.
The Rajin facility will give Chinese importers and exporters direct access to the Sea of Japan for the first time. "It is the country's first access to the maritime space in its northeast since it was blocked over a century ago," the Global Times reported.
China lost access to the Sea of Japan during the Qing Dynasty in the 19th century after signing treaties under duress from Japan and Russia.
Various media in Japan and South Korea have suggested the lease might give China an opportunity to place a naval base at Rajin, but Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., also downplayed the notion, saying North Korea's negative attitudes toward China and a fear of excessive Chinese influence would negate any chance Beijing could establish a naval presence there.
Klingner also said he doubts North Korea would make a success out of the agreement. "Pyongyang's aversion to implementing necessary economic reform and its ham-fisted treatment of investors suggests the new effort to turn Rajin into an investment hub will be as much a failure as the first attempt in the 1990s."