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Reports on China issued by Samsung Economic Research Institute

China’s “Tumen River Initiative” and the Policy Implications

China’s “Tumen River Initiative” and the Policy Implications

CHOI Myeong-Hae

July 27, 2012

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In 2009, the Chinese government officially approved the "Outline for the Tumen River Area Joint Development Plan" (i.e. plan for the establishment of Changjitu pilot zone). Recently, China has led the way in joint cross-border development projects with North Korea and Russia. With regard to the impact of the Tumen River Area Development Initiative on Korea, public discourse in the South Korean society has degenerated into confrontation between arguments for "staying alert to China" and "recognizing China's role." But instead of wasting time and energy on such a debate, it would be desirable to objectively examine what the development of the Tumen River region means in the context of China's national development strategy and establish effective responses.

The Tumen River Area Development Program (TRADP) has moved forward until now, weathering several ups and downs with China's initiative forming a large part of the impetus behind the progress of the TRADP to promote cross-border cooperation. The Chinese government has recently taken a more aggressive approach to attracting positive responses from Russia and North Korea. Its Changjitu pilot zone plan stems from a broader framework of national strategy. In this regard, China's Tumen River Initiative is expected to gain more steam. Keeping in mind the formation and preparation of a greater Tumen region economic bloc, China now expresses its willingness to push ahead with the Tumen River Area Development program independently.

China's Tumen River Initiative should not be subject to the dichotomous debate because it presents both threats and opportunities. Rather, it is critically important to envision changes in the geopolitical landscape of Northeast Asia and actively respond with preemptive measures. South Korea needs to find a balance in generating win-win benefits, rather than directly "counter-balancing" the initiative. In this respect, a realistic alternative must be the cooperative joint advancement of South Korea, China and Russia into the Tumen River Area Development program, to secure logistics bases in Northeast Asia, encourage reform and openness in North Korea and gain strategic footholds for a unified Korea.

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