A planned free trade port in Northeast China's Liaoning Province could offer abundant opportunities for North Korea as the country is striving to revitalize its troubled economy under heavy pressure from foreign sanctions, a Chinese analyst said on Tuesday.
Economic cooperation between the two neighbors is likely on top of the agenda in meetings between Chinese leaders and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, who arrived in Beijing on Monday for a four-day official visit, the analyst noted.
As Kim's arrival in Beijing garnered global attention, officials at the China (Liaoning) Pilot Free Trade Zone (FTZ) are exploring the option of setting up a free trade port in the province this year to make Shenyang, capital of Liaoning, into a regional hub for Northeast Asia, the Liaoning Daily newspaper reported on Tuesday.
While news of the free trade port does not explicitly involve North Korea, it could potentially become a focal point in economic cooperation between China and North Korea once obstacles, including UN sanctions, are cleared, according to Lü Chao, a research fellow with the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences.
"This is particularly significant because it could link China, North Korea and South Korea as well as the entire Northeast Asian region together and boost economic cooperation," Lü told the Global Times on Tuesday.
Details of the free trade port were unclear in the Liaoning Daily report, but the overall goal of the Liaoning FTZ, which was launched in 2017, is to connect countries in the Northeast Asian region, including North Korea and South Korea. Setting up a free trade port is part of the upgrade of the FTZ.
"With a free trade port, there's no doubt that economic cooperation between Liaoning and North Korea will be elevated," said Lü. But he said economic cooperation with North Korea should be in line with sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council over the country's nuclear program.
"Much of [the cooperation] is still in the discussion phase. But given a series of recent positive signs, we are hopeful that the sanctions will be lifted and economic cooperation will be the focus," he said.
Before departing for Beijing, Kim, in a speech to mark the new year, said that his country is committed to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and is also willing to further build relationships with the US and South Korea, according to the Xinhua News Agency on January 1.
Kim said he is open to another summit with US President Donald Trump, who has confirmed that his administration was setting up a second meeting. Kim's visit to Beijing is also viewed as part of his preparations for the second summit with Trump.