SHENYANG, China—A much-hyped plan by China and North Korea to jointly develop two small islands in the Yalu river has been quietly put on hold because of disagreements about troop deployments.
China was to have constructed an industrial complex on Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa islands but the project, which began last year, fell apart because China would not consent to allowing North Korean troops on the two islands.
After repeated requests by North Korea to deploy the soldiers, Chinese officials informed their North Korean counterparts in June that they were suspending the development project, North Korean military sources said.
The islands are within North Korea but right on the border between the two nations. One source said: "The North Korean military was opposed to the pullout, because they wanted to enjoy the benefits that would arise from the development project."
Hwanggumpyong, which is about 11 square kilometers and is separated from China by a narrow canal, was to have been developed before the 12-square-kilometer Wihwa island.
According to local farmers, part of the canal was covered to build a 10-meter-wide road to help construction. That road was turned back into a canal in July. North Korean military officers in charge of border control admitted that the joint development project had been suspended.
Development of the islands was agreed to as part of plans by the late Kim Jong Il to boost North Korea’s economy by using Chinese capital. A groundbreaking ceremony was held in June 2011 to launch the project.
China acquired the rights to develop the islands over a 50-year period. A zone with tariff and customs exemptions was to have been established as part of an effort to attract light industry.
In addition to allowing Chinese companies to use cheap North Korean labor, there was also a pledge not to nationalize or seize any investments or assets brought in from outside North Korea. The two sides also agreed to allow communications technology on the islands that are restricted in the rest of North Korea.
According to North Korean military sources, North Korea had asked that China handle the construction of infrastructure such as roads and sewage systems on the islands. No actual construction work was undertaken because of the hesitancy of Chinese investors concerned about the unpredictability of North Korean policy making.
A South Korean government source said: "Because North Korea was seeking to develop islands that were nothing but farming villages by depending on China, it had nothing to lose, even if the development project was suspended."
Chinese sources said construction work is continuing on a bridge over the Yalu river near Hwanggumpyong. The work began in May 2011 and plans call for the bridge linking the two nations to open in 2014.
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