Desperate to show progress on inter-Korean relations, South Korea is chomping at the bit to provide aid to North Korea, but the North has other ideas, turning instead to its ally, Iran.
South Korean desperation is such that President Park herself is touting the use of the Asian Infrastructural Investment Bank to rehabilitate the North Korean economy, despite China’s well-publicized rebuff of Pyongyang’s membership feeler last month.
This is despite the fact that, as expected, North Korea sabotaged South Korea’s attempt to join the multilateral railroad group that would have facilitated the connection of the “Eastern line” linking South Korea to Russia, and promoting President Park’s Eurasian dream.
So Pyongyang may be sabotaging Comrade Putin’s railroad, but in this “Year of Friendship” it still wants to cooperate on wind farms. The largest supplier of electricity in the Russian Far East has announced that it is considering building wind farms on both sides of the border and selling the power to North Korea. The project might not be as fanciful as it looks at first glance: it could address the chronic electricity problems in the expanding Rason zone.
North Korea ran into some problems in Australia last week. Having indicated an interest in joining the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force earlier this year, FATF instead placed North Korean on its watch list, citing North Korea’s “failure to address the significant deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism,” the task force said in a public statement released on its website. It said that failure poses “serious threat … to the integrity of the international financial system” at its meeting in Brisbane. I asked my colleague Ted Truman, who co-authored with Peter Reuter an excellent book on the anti-money laundering movement, what he made of this development, and he responded that “My guess is that they [FAFT] are serious but that does not preclude [technical assistance] and contacts with FATF, which probably is already on offer. Until the FATF is convinced of the seriousness of the [North Korean] regime I doubt observer status is in play.” Ted’s comment is reminiscent of the Chinese response to the AIIB feeler: these institutions embody a set of norms and while diplomatic considerations play a role, and these institutions may exhibit some forbearance for countries like North Korea, ultimately North Korea is going to have to accept the rules of the game if it wants to play.