【英语中国】韩国对朝贸易输给中国 South Korea’s trade ban lost the North to China

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2014-2-25 08:40

小艾摘要: A poor country triples its trade volume in six years. Exports to its main partner soar fivefold. This is a rare feat for a nation not blessed with oil; rarer still for a country under UN Security Coun ...
South Korea’s trade ban lost the North to China
A poor country triples its trade volume in six years. Exports to its main partner soar fivefold. This is a rare feat for a nation not blessed with oil; rarer still for a country under UN Security Council sanctions, tightened three times during the same trade spurt.

We are talking of North Korea, believe it or not. Unbelievers appear to include Kim Jong Un. When the young leader brutally purged his uncle-mentor, Jang Song Thaek, in December the charge sheet included “selling off precious resources of the country at cheap prices”.

China does receive some (not all) North Korean minerals cheap, since no one else will buy. But to be fair, on Jang’s watch – he oversaw trade with China – an economy still poorer on most indicators than when Moscow pulled the plug in 1991 began to grasp one big nettle: how to raise exports. Pyongyang issues no numbers; when they do that, we will know for sure reform is under way. But its partners’ recent trade statistics tell a striking story.

North Korea has never traded much, and has always run a deficit. When the USSR collapsed, China was left as its main partner-cum-sponsor. For many years their trade was more like aid. In the late 1990s the value of imports from China averaged about $500m a year – though often they were not paid for. Pyongyang exported next to nothing in return. The debts mounted, as did Chinese impatience. The deficit rose throughout the subsequent decade, reaching $1.3bn in 2008 – twice the level of Pyongyang’s exports.

In 2012 South Korean news agency Yonhap noted a startling change. In just four years, starting in 2007, the value of trade had almost tripled to $5.6bn. At the same time, it became less one-sided; North Korea’s exports more than quadrupled to $2.5bn. That is still peanuts by regional and global standards, and the deficit narrowed rather than disappearing entirely. But it began to look like serious, reciprocal trade. The progress continues, if no longer at quite such a clip. Latest Chinese customs statistics show that North Korean exports to China in 2013 rose 17 per cent to nearly $3bn, against imports of $3.6bn.

China apart, North Korea has, or had, only one crucial partner: South Korea: Pyongyang’s trade with the rest of the world in 2012 totalled less than $800m, according to Seoul’s Bank of Korea. In 2007 after a decade of “sunshine”, the engagement pursued by two liberal presidents, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, inter-Korean trade reached $1.8bn, snapping at China’s heels. South Korea briefly became the North’s biggest export market as the joint venture Kaesong Industrial Complex, in the North but near to Seoul, grew.

Larger plans were afoot. In 2007, at the second North-South summit, accords were signed for co-operation on shipbuilding, mining, transport and more. A plethora of new joint committees started work quickly to implement all this. For once the Koreas talked business, not politics.

Nothing came of it. At the end of that year, South Koreans elected as president Lee Myung-bak, who insisted the North must first give up nuclear weapons. The agreements were aborted and a downward spiral began. In May 2010, after the sinking of a South Korean warship, Mr Lee banned all inter-Korean trade and all investment except at Kaesong.

That zone alone still generated record North-South trade of $2bn in 2012. Meanwhile trade between China and North Korea leapt ahead. Last April, Mr Kim sabotaged Kaesong, pulling out the North’s workers. It reopened in September but the closure meant inter-Korean trade fell 42 per cent in 2013 to $1.1bn: an eight-year low, and barely one-sixth the value of trade with China.

North Korea is a risky place to do business, for Chinese as for others. Yet well-publicised horror stories may mislead. The numbers show that many Chinese companies have found a way to navigate the obstacles and make money. They would not be there otherwise.

Beijing’s gain is Seoul’s loss. Stillborn state-run projects aside, in the sunshine era a few bold companies from the South vied with China to do business in North Korea. Outside Kaesong they all lost their shirts. Yet it was not Kim Jong Il, the current leader’s father and predecessor, but Mr Lee who did for them. The sectors affected (mining above all) mourn the chances lost, but politicians are in denial. In January President Park Geun-hye told South Koreans to prepare for reunification, which she bizarrely called a “jackpot”. But the Koreas can barely even agree to hold family reunions – the first in four years began this week – much less recoup ground lost under Mr Lee, whose trade ban remains in force.

Pyongyang always tries to play off its interlocutors against one another. Conceivably, the mercurial Mr Kim might suddenly try to ditch China and re-embrace South Korea. But Beijing will not let him and the cautious Ms Park would not have him. Uncle Jang’s men may have fallen from favour but the trade ties he built will last. Seoul blew its chance. North Korea’s future now lies with China.

The writer is honorary senior research fellow in sociology and modern Korea at Leeds University

一个穷国的贸易额在6年时间里增长了两倍,对其主要贸易伙伴国的出口额飙升了5倍。这对一个石油匮乏的国家来说是个罕见的成就,再考虑到它还受到联合国(UN)安理会的制裁,能取得这样的成绩就更是难得了。在该国贸易额喷发式增长期间,联合国对其施加了3轮新制裁。

信不信由你,我们是在说朝鲜。不相信的人里似乎也包括金正恩(Kim Jong Un)。当这位年轻领导人于去年12月无情地铲除他的姑父兼导师张成泽(Jang Song Thaek)时,判决书中所列的罪行包括“廉价出售国家宝贵资源。”

中国确实以廉价获得朝鲜的部分(不是全部)矿产,因为不会有其他人来买。但公平地说,在张成泽的掌管下(他负责管朝中贸易),朝鲜——从多数指标上看,朝鲜比1991年苏联解体时更加贫穷——开始果断地处理一个棘手问题:如何扩大出口?朝鲜政府没有公布贸易数据,但假如它会公布,我们会明确地知道朝鲜正在进行改革。不过,朝鲜各贸易伙伴国近期的贸易数据却反映出一个惊人的现象。

朝鲜从未开展过太多贸易活动,而且贸易总是处于逆差状态。苏联解体后,中国成了朝鲜最主要的贸易伙伴兼资助者。许多年来,中朝之间的贸易更像是援助。20世纪90年代末,朝鲜从中国进口的货物平均每年为5亿美元左右,尽管朝方往往没有支付货款。朝鲜没有对华出口多少东西。随着朝鲜的欠债越来越多,中国人也越来越不耐烦。朝鲜对华贸易逆差在接下来的10年里不断增长,在2008年达到13亿美元,比朝方出口额高出近一倍。

2012年,韩国新闻通讯社韩联社(Yonhap)报道了一个惊人的变化。从2007年起的4年时间里,朝鲜对华贸易额几乎增长了两倍,达到56亿美元。同时,朝鲜对华贸易活动也不再是单向的:朝方出口额增长了3倍多,达到25亿美元。拿地区和全球的标准来衡量,这些数字微不足道,而且朝鲜的贸易逆差只是在缩小,并没有完全消除。但朝中贸易似乎开始朝真正意义上的、互有往来的贸易方向发展了。这股势头得以延续,即使增长速度不再那么迅猛。中国海关最近的数据显示,2013年朝鲜对华出口额接近30亿美元,同比增长17%,进口额为36亿美元。

除了中国,朝鲜——这里或许应该说曾经——只剩下一个重要的贸易伙伴:韩国。据韩国央行(Bank of Korea)统计,2012年朝鲜与中韩以外地区的贸易额不到8亿美元。2007年,在两位自由派韩国总统金大中(Kim Dae-jung)和卢武铉(Roh Moo-hyun)推行对朝“阳光政策”(Sunshine,指1998-2008年期间韩国实行与韩鲜增进接触的政策——译者注)10年后,朝韩贸易额达到18亿美元,直追朝中贸易额。随着双方合作建设的开城工业园区(Kaesong Industrial Complex)不断发展,韩国一度成为朝鲜最大的出口市场。开城工业园地处朝鲜,但离首尔很近。

更宏伟的计划浮出水面。2007年,在第二次韩朝峰会上,双方就造船、采矿、交通等方面的合作签署了系列协议。一大批新组建的联合委员会很快就投入工作,以落实相关协议。朝韩双方谈商业而不谈政治,仅此一次。

但那轮合作无果而终。2007年年底,韩国民众选举李明博(Lee Myung-bak)为总统,他坚持朝鲜必须首先放弃核武器。双方的协议被中止,情况急转直下。2010年5月,在韩国一艘军舰沉没后,李明博禁止了与朝鲜的一切贸易,以及除开城以外的所有投资。

不过,单凭开城工业园,朝韩贸易额在2012年依然创纪录地达到20亿美元。与此同时,朝中贸易也实现了跳跃式增长。去年4月,金正恩宣布撤出开城工业园的全部朝鲜工人,给园区造成了损失。虽然开城工业园于9月重新开张,但园区关闭已导致2013年双边贸易额下降42%至11亿美元,为8年来最低,仅为朝中贸易额的六分之一。

无论是对中国人还是其他国家的人而言,在朝鲜做生意都要冒着很大风险。不过,那些广为流传的骇人故事或许具有误导性。统计数字表明,许多中国企业找到了克服障碍和赚钱的法子——若非如此,他们就不会去朝鲜。

中国得利,韩国就受损。除流产的国有项目之外,在阳光政策时期,曾有少数大胆的韩国企业在朝经商、与中国企业竞争。除开城之外,它们在朝鲜其他地方的生意全都血本无归。然而,导致这种结果的并非金正日(Kim Jong Il)——朝鲜现任领导人的父亲和前任,而是李明博。受到禁令影响的行业(采矿业首当其冲)叹惜失去了多少机会,但政客们拒不承认。今年1月,韩国总统朴槿惠(Park Geun-hye)告诉韩国民众为半岛统一做好准备,她用了个怪异的说法,称统一能带来“巨大利益”(jackpot)。但就连离散家属团聚问题,朝韩双方都仅能勉强达成共识(近日举行的朝韩离散家属团聚活动是4年来的首次),收复李明博时代所失去“阵地”这个问题就更别提了,他下达的贸易禁令如今也仍然有效。

平壤方面总是试图挑拨会谈各方的关系。可以想象,一向多变的金正恩或许会突然试图抛弃中国、向韩国重新示好。但北京方面不会任由他这样做,一向谨慎的朴槿惠也不会接受他的示好。张成泽的人马或许已经失势,但他构建的贸易纽带将会延续下去。首尔方面浪费了一个好机会。朝鲜的未来如今系于中国身上。

本文作者是利兹大学(Leeds University)荣誉高级研究员,研究方向是社会学与当代韩国

译者/何黎

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