Shunned by the most of the world as a pariah state, Nth Korea is cementing ties with its old patron, China, with trade volume between them hitting new highs, according to South Korean statistics.
The trade volume in 2011 soared a record 60% to $5.63 billion and although final data is not yet available, analysts expect 2012 to be another banner year.
The dramatic increase reflects a conscious decision by Beijing in 2011 to prop up its failing ally. Shortly before his death a year ago, North Korean leader Kin Jong II made three trips to China to secure support for rebuilding his ruling Workers’ Party, the equivalent of the party in China. The Chinese also have been keen to prop up Kim’s 29-year-old son and successor, Kim Jung Un.
Beijing last year also gave permission for tens of thousands of North Koreans to work in factories in northeastern China, usually sending a large share of their earnings back to their government.
With Chinese help, the North Korean economy grew for the first time in three years, albeit a modest 0.83%. In the last year, Pyongyang has undergone its first significant facelift in decades, adding modern apartment blocks, a new airport terminal, stores and restaurants and a dolphinarium to the North Korean capital.
Nevertheless, South Korean per capita income remained about 19 times higher than North Korea’s $1,239.
North Koreans buy most of their consumer goods and fuel from China. China accounted for 70% of North Korea’s foreign trade last year, the highest since the South Korean statistic office began calculating the figures.
The South Korean figures provide a glimpse of the economic health of one of the world’s most secretive countries. North Korea does not report its trade statistics.