Cablegate: Khasan, Russia: On North Korea's Doorstep

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1. (U) Summary: After months of meetings and diplomatic notes,
the Consulate received permission for a day trip to Khasan,
Russia's only border crossing point with North Korea. Khasan is
a small settlement where North Korea, Russia, and China meet.
The permission for the October 22 trip did extend to the
tri-country marker, or the "Friendship Bridge" between Russia
and North Korea, but it did allow us to approach to within 400
meters of North Korean territory. For Russians too, Khasan is a
closed area, requiring special permission. For the most part,
the border is quiet, but twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays,
North Korean workers disembark from a one-wagon train for onward
assignment to labor in Russia's forests, construction sites, and
fish processing factories. Train tickets from North Korea's
town of Tumangan to Khasan cost just under five dollars. Khasan
has rail links with all of Russia. End summary.


2. (U) On most world maps, Vladivostok appears tucked right
into Northern China and North Korea. In reality, Russia, North
Korea and China come together in Khasan, some 295 kilometers by
car from Vladivostok on the other side of Amur Bay. In winter,
locals take the shortcut across the bay on the ice. On this
trip, CG stayed on the sometimes paved road, driving through the
Barabash leopard territory, across numerous salmon streams and
rivers, including the "Amba" or Tiger, and past abandoned
military outposts to reach the Khasan settlement. The trip goes
through some of the most pristine area in Primorye, where
endangered leopards and tigers still roam freely and swans,
ducks and cranes can be seen in local waterways; however, it is
also a corridor for potential new development, including oil and
gas pipelines and a planned new highway.

3. (U) If globalization is the free flow of goods, labor, and
capital, then Khasan represents only a glimmer of the
possibilities. North Korean laborers do come through here, but
the flow of goods from Russia to North Korea is greatly reduced
from the Soviet-North Korean heyday in the 1980's. On a trip
here four years ago, Consulate staff saw Russian logs being
shipped to North Korea, but the railroad administrator told us
that few Russian goods were being sent to North Korea now.
Tourism is also quite restricted coming into Russia here from
North Korea and China, although Khasan Administrator Ivan
Vladimirovich Stepanov can imagine his settlement having a hotel
with a bar and sauna. Not that many North Koreans could afford
to enjoy it. Stepanov said living conditions in North Korea
were "awful" and he did not know frankly how people could
survive with "no electricity, nothing." Russian tourists can
purchase a seven day tour in North Korea for just under $500 for
a seven day stay on the seashore. At Khasan, Chinese tourists
with binoculars could be spotted on an observation tower on the
Chinese side of the border, but there was no car or foot traffic
across the "Friendship Bridge" between Russia and North Korea.


4. (U) While China meets Russia in Khasan, the nearest
Russia-China border crossing is at Kraskino, on the way to
Khasan. There, a new shopping center has been built by the
Chinese neighboring city of Kunshun. It is a newly painted
three story pink building, but locals said it was closed and
replied with a shrug when asked when it would open. As for
Russian business in North Korea, it was interesting to hear
Stepanov say that Russian businessmen find doing business there
quite risky, with Russians having transferred money to Korean
partners that "disappears," a problem that has plagued American
businesses in the Far East as well. Khasan shows little benefit
from being a border town. In fact, American influence was as
prevalent as Chinese or North Korean, with one shop named
"Texas" and a car sporting the logo "In God We Trust" on the
back window. The 800 Khasan residents (down from 1200 in Soviet
days) rely on jobs with the railroad or Customs, and in fact,
those are the jobs that Khasan high school students identified
to the CG as being most desirable upon graduation.

5. (U) Out-migration of youth is another serious problem in
Khasan as it is throughout the Russian Far East. Among the
students was a bright Korean girl who asked good questions in
Russian and turned out to be the daughter of the North Korean
Consul. She also spoke some English. Her father's position must
no doubt be designed to keep tabs on the comings and goings of
the North Korean laborers whose movements in Russia are
"controlled." The railroad has built handsome new townhouses on
a hill overlooking the rail station and the school and station
itself are in good repair. The Rail Station was built
especially for North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il's first visit to

VLADIVOSTO 00000106 002.2 OF 002

Russia in 2001. Housing for the rest of the settlement remains
Khasan Administrator Stepanov's biggest problem. The
"Khrushchev" apartment buildings where most people live are in
dire need of repair. Stepanov says he was attracted to Khasan
20 years ago from Moscow's suburbs by the hunting and fishing.
But he follows North Korea's news closely, including the
six-party talks, and says he hopes there will someday be a
"boom" of activity when and if things normalize in North Korea.
He is also hoping some of the federal money set aside for Far
East development for APEC in 2012 will come his way, but he is


6. (U) North Korean workers left several recent copies of the
North Korean publications "Korea" and "Korea Today," both
printed in Russian in the Khasan rail station. There is a page
one article on former President Clinton's visit, as well as
photographs of alleged Japanese atrocities during the Second
World War. On the walls, placards in Korean advised travelers
on weight restrictions for luggage and other travel details.
Khasan was the site of Soviet and Japanese fighting in 1938 and
there is a monument on the hill overlooking China and North
Korea to the two thousand Soviet soldiers who died defending
this territory. The border today appears to be lightly
militarized. There is an unobtrusive Russian outpost off to
the side of the border with a fairly large radar array. No
Chinese or North Korean troops are visible from the Russian
side. A Russian museum, dedicated to the "Heroes of Khasan" was
removed in fact because it contained weapons, albeit museum
pieces, and was within an area that all sides have agreed should
be demilitarized.

7. (U) Comment: Khasan and Kraskino have promise as border
towns with millions of possible Chinese tourists and customers
at their doorstep, but the potential has been there for years,
with little or no movement. We suspect a trip to Khasan ten
years from now will find conditions to be much the same, unless
Vladivostok's APEC Summit in 2012 represents a real turnaround
with respect to Russia's attitude towards engagement with its
neighbors and a similar and even more dramatic reversal on North
Korea's part. More optimistically, if Korea were to be a united
and free country, Khasan could find itself on a major East-West
corridor, and Administrator Stepanov could have his hotel, bar
and sauna.

© Scoop Media

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