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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
North Korea is seeking to boost trade, tourism, and overseas laborer quotas with Russia’s Far East, the Primorsky Krai official website reported Tuesday following a meeting between top officials from both sides in Vladivostok the previous day.
DPRK consul general in Vladivostok Jo Sok Chol and Primorsky Krai (also referred to as Primorye) Governor Oleg Kozhemyako met in Vladivostok Monday to “discuss the development of transport, logistics, and tourist ties,” the report said.
It also said the two sides noted the planned construction of a new border crossing and road bridge connecting Russia’s Khasan and North Korea’s Tumangang was “the most promising area of cooperation directly between” Primorye and the DPRK.
Located near the meeting point of the Chinese, Russian, and North Korean borders, the new road bridge – tentatively slated to be built next to the existing Korea-Russia Friendship rail bridge – entered the planning stages last spring.
The two sides agreed in their meeting that “the implementation of this project will help increase trade between the territories and will stimulate the development of tourist relations.”
According to a review of the latest satellite imagery, however, construction on the bridge has yet to begin on the ground – though there was progress in 2018 on what appear to be customs facilities on the North Korean side.
Jo and Kozhemyako on Monday also discussed tourism and even boosting the dispatch of North Korean laborers to the region, despite the latter being currently outlawed under UN Security Council sanctions.
On the agenda Monday were “issues related to the organization of tourist exchanges and an increase in the quota for attracting labor from North Korea to Primorye,” the local government report said.
UN sanctions Resolution 2397, passed at the end of 2017, prohibits all UN member states from hosting North Korean workers in their territory after December 22, 2019.
Russian officials have repeatedly expressed hope of amending or removing the restrictions before the deadline at the end of this year, when all workers that may still currently be in the territory on old contracts will be legally required to be deported.
Regarding sanctions in general, Russia’s “ambassador at large” Oleg Burmistrov old Interfax in an interview released Monday that more sanctions should begin to be removed at the UN level, starting with practical exemptions for ongoing projects.
Pointing to inter-Korean railway cooperation as one opportunity for enhanced Russian involvement, Burmistrov said a planned trans-Korean railway is the “exit to the Trans-Siberian Railway that makes the connection of these roads economically meaningful.”
Burmistrov said he believes the railway connection would “obviously encounter” obstacles in the form of sanctions, saying unilateral U.S. and South Korean measures are “harmful” to the denuclearization process and calling for a “gradual revision” of UN sanctions.
The Korea-Russia Friendship Bridge, built in 1959, is the presumed connection point for the planned trans-Korea-Siberia railway link.
Featured image: Alexander Safronov / Administration of Primorsky Krai