Larisa V. Zabrovskaya
Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography of the Peoples of the Far East,
Far Eastern Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences Vladivostok
Abstract: The most significant events related to the implementation of the Tumangan project are analyzed. The implementation of this project was expected to have a stimulating effect on the Chinese regional economy and boost economic growth in other Northeast Asian countries. The evolution of Chinese tactics and strategy for solving the tasks of the Tumangan project is traced. The conceptual foundations of modern Chinese policy to revive the original goal of the project are revealed. At present, China believes that the development of cross-border tourism and public diplomacy, which do not require significant investment, can solve many of the problems of the project. The Chinese regional authorities are striving to turn their sector of the Tumangan project into an attractive area for cross-border cooperation in the field of tourism and humanitarian exchange. This project may also be linked to another Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. New mechanisms for implementing the economic development of the border Chinese- North Korean regions have been studied. It is explained why the Russian Primorye is not included in the network of Chinese local projects. An assessment is given of the mobilization of transnational ties of Chinese Koreans and attention is drawn to the active support of this process by the Chinese authorities. The methods used by the Chinese side to attract the DPRK to participate in the project are revealed and the reasons why other countries of Northeast Asia are in no hurry to take part in this Chinese project are identified. The role of the COVID-19 pandemic in the reorientation of Chinese cargo flows from sea to rail transport is analyzed. It is concluded that the initial plan to create a coalition of countries united by the idea of economic development of the lower reaches of the border river. Foggy, turned out to be far from reality and required significant improvement. It is emphasized that China’s new policy is aimed at strengthening comprehensive humanitarian ties with neighboring states in order to expand trade and economic cooperation and strengthen the Chinese presence in the ports of the Sea of Japan. As a result, the Chinese Northeast gained access to the Sea of Japan through the territories of neighboring countries and in this way expanded its ties with the Republic of Korea and Japan, which partially solved the original idea of the Tumangan project.
Keywords: “Tumangang” project; China; the DPRK; Russia; the ROK; Japan; tourism; Sea of Japan
The need for access to the sea of Jilin Province was first announced in China in 1990. This goal was substantiated in the Tumen River Area Development Programme (TRADP), or, Tumen River Project. Initially, this project set grandiose tasks to unite the efforts of the NEA countries to create an international trade port in the delta of the Tumannaya (Korean: Tumangang, Chinese: Tumenjiang) border river and build an airport, which were supposed to be connected by railway lines to the Trans-Siberian and Chinese railways. Due to the new transport mega-complex, the Chinese provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang would get access to the Sea of Japan and expand their trade and economic ties. In addition, the Chinese authorities proposed gaining the future international trading port a status of a free trade zone similar to Hong Kong. As a result, the lower reaches of the Tumen river would become an open territory for international capital.
It was envisaged that six interested countries – China, Russia, both Korean states, Japan and Mongolia – would conclude an agreement on the legal status of the lower reaches of the Tumen river as a free trade zone. It was also assumed that, according to this agreement, China, Russia and the DPRK would lease their lands adjacent to the lower reaches of the river for the construction of the international port infrastructure [1, р. 97]. However, an international treaty on the new status of the lower reaches of the Tumen river was never concluded. The authorities of Russia and the DPRK refused to lease parts of their territory, and this was the main obstacle to the implementation of the original idea of the Tumen River Project. In
subsequent years, the tasks of the project were transformed in accordance with the new political and economic realities.
Interests of China
The Tumen River Project proposed by the Chinese side found support from the leadership of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which planned to allocate $ 30 billion over the 15-20 years for the construction of the infrastructure of the future international trade port in the lower reaches of the Tumen river. [1, р. 97]. It was also expected that all participating countries would take part in financing various industries of the free trade zone. During 1991-1994, the leaders of the UN Development Program held a series of consultations between the participants of the Tumen River Project and found significant disagreements, primarily of a military-political nature, which led to doubts of the countries about the appropriateness of their participation in the project [2, p. 29].
Japan decided to take an observer position and refrained from investing in the infrastructure of the Tumen River Project, because it had concerns about the development of North Korean nuclear project [3, p. 15]. Although the South Korean government has not formally withdrawn from participation in this project, it has also decided to refrain from major investments due to prejudices related to North Korean plans for nuclear weapon development and the risk of non-return of their investments. In addition, these two countries were afraid of increased competition from China, which could strengthen its positions through the implementation of the Tumen River Project and become their trade and economic rival in Northeast Asia. [4, p. 87].
Although the Russian government verbally approved the concept of the Tumen River Project, in reality it feared that such an international trading port in the lower reaches of the Tumen river would become a competitor to Russian Far Eastern ports, and the Trans-Siberian Railway and BAM would be underloaded, as the flow of goods to Europe would go along the Chinese railway as a shorter route. Therefore, the Russian authorities quickly lost interest in this project, and Russian participation was reduced to ceremonial functions and limited to attending various conferences and meetings.
Initially, the DPRK authorities also hesitated in making decision on participating in this project and opening up their northeastern provinces to foreign capital. However, in the face of tightening international sanctions and the need for foreign investment, they nevertheless began to open their northern provinces. In turn, China took a firm stance on the implementation of the tasks of the Tumen River Project and immediately began to develop a free economic zone in the vicinity of the border city of Hunchun (Figure 1).
Due to the fact that Russia and the DPRK did not agree to lease their territories for the construction of international trade port, the parties concerned came to the conclusion to develop their territories in the lower reaches of the Tumen river independently and at their own expense [5, p. 3]. As a result, the Chinese sector of the Tumen River Project with the center in the city of Hunchun, began to develop most rapidly. At the same time, the Chinese authorities began to look for the possibility of gaining access to the sea for their areas of the Tumen River Project, and announced the need to organize regular flights between the city of Yanji and Primorye city of Artyom.
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