Sunday, June 4, 2017

Ferry service starts between Russia and North Korea

(May 18) Just as the United States is trying to isolate North Korea and imposes more sanctions, Russia and North Korea have initiated ferry services between Rajin on the east coast of North Korea and Vladivostok on Russia's east coast.

This is the first sea service between the two nations. There is a rail service all the way from Pyongyang to Moscow and air service but no land connection at the narrow border between Russia and North Korea in the east. The trip took about nine hours. The plan is to transport Chinese tourists to Russia every week. On the way back Russian tourists will travel to Rajin. North Korean workers will also travel back and forth from Vladivostock starting May 25. Russian journalist Khrolenko said:"
The Man Gyong Bong has three dry cargo holds with a total capacity of 1,500 tons, which will probably not be empty on voyages. The ice-free port of Rajin is located in the North-Korean city of Rason which enjoys the status of a special economic zone with free business allowed. The free port of Vladivostok is also a zone of special customs, tax, investment and related regulation."
The U.S. Congress has just endorsed more sanctions on North Korea ships and employees. U.S. sanctions bar vessels owned by the North or by countries involved in trade with Pyongyang from operating in U.S. waters or docking at U.S. ports. Khrolenko said that the U.S. Congress went as far as maintaining special control over Russsia's far eastern ports of Vladivostok, Nakhoda, and Vanino as part of its measures. At the UN, U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley is urging other countries to put more pressure on North Korea saying: "You either support North Korea or you support us, you are either with North Korea or not." Khrolenko noted that Vladivostock has already acted quite contrary to the sanctions. He also claimed that Russia was complying with UN Security Council Resolution 2270 placing restrictions on North Korea that Putin agreed to last December. However, he said this does not mean that the U.S. can impose its own police controls over sovereign states. Khrolenko said: "No country and no international organization have authorized the U.S. to monitor the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions by police or 'cowboy' methods," He said the motion passed by the U.S. Congress contradicted the principle of national sovereignty and called international economic activity into question. Khrolenko noted that the U.S. wanted to track ships coming to Russia from some other countries and also inspect cargo transported to certain ports in North Korea.
Konstantiin Kosachev, who heads the Russian Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee said that the U.S. Congress bill would allow "forced inspection of all vessels" by U.S. warship. He said that such a declaration was tantamount to a declaration of war. Rather it means that the US has given itself the power of global policeman, a role that it has often played already. But Khrolenko noted:"It is impossible to control the ports and economic activities of independent states from Washington. As for the Far Eastern ports of Russia, the Americans may only conduct remote monitoring [of the region]. The U.S. can also obtain information by using space reconnaissance means, remote hacking of the ports databases or agents in the field. Or they can simply inspect any vessel in neutral waters… Everything is possible, but taking into account the total volume of shipping and the capabilities of the Navy of the aforementioned countries [Russia, China, Iran, Syria], such control appears to be too dangerous,"
The recent ballistic missile test that landed not far from the Russia east coast created concern that the North was further along in missile development than was thought and for the U.S. to pass stricter sanctions but to some Russian entrepreneurs opportunities are being created for developing tourism with the North as a ferry service was established between the two countries. The ferry, the Man Gyong Bong is actually owned by a Russian company InvestStroyTrest, was carrying Russians and representatives of Chinese tourist companies on its maiden voyage, The company hopes that Russian and Chinese tourists will use the service as well as North Koreans working in Vladivostok.
The ferry can hold 200 cabins. It has 40 cabins, a restaurant and two bars. The company says the bars are to allow all passengers to engage in merrymaking. There are also slot machines, a shop, a sauna, and a karaoke room. The ship also has room for up to 1,500 tonnes of cargo, as mentioned earlier. To take goods to Rajin by land would take 22 hours according to the ferry company rather than nine hours by ferry.
Maria Zakharova, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson said that she did not see any connection between the new ferry service and political issues. Others may see the situation differently. There are growing political and economic ties between Russia and North Korea. They have an agreement to increase bilateral trade to one billion by 2020. There are also extradition treaties between the two countries. The treaty has been criticized by human rights organizations of what they say is an existing problem deporting North Korean asylum seekers back to the North where they will be severely punished. It may also discourage North Koreans from seeking asylum in Russia. No doubt the United States will not be pleased by the new ferry service and Russia's increasing economic links with a country the U.S. is trying its best to isolate. A recent Digital Journal article also describes the service.


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