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Recommended Citation

Armin Rosencranz, Paul Stanton Kibel and Jeanny Wang, "A GREEN TRADE ZONE IN NORTHEAST ASIA? Spring 1995", Aprenet, April 01, 1995, https://nautilus.org/aprenet/a-green-trade-zone-in-northeast-asia-spring-1995/

Tumen River Area Development Issues


An earlier version of this article appeared in the Spring 1995
issue of Natural Resources Defense Council's Amicus Journal.



Greater efforts are needed to ensure that the Tumen delta becomes
a model for environmentally responsible development, not another
example of unchecked industrialization. 

Armin Rosencranz, Paul Stanton Kibel and Jeanny Wang             

The Tumen River, located in Northeast Asia, forms the border of
China, Russia and North Korea where they converge beside the Sea
of Japan. From its headwaters in the snowy Changbai Mountains the
Tumen extends 516 kilometers to the sea, gathering the runoff
from five major tributaries and the respective populations and
industries that live in the catchment. 

The area encompasses a diversity of forest and water ecosystems,
and is relatively sparsely settled.  The lower reaches of the
Tumen River creates a floodplain with numerous freshwater lakes
and brackish lagoons, and the delta comprises an area of
tremendous ecological significance and beauty. 
Its wetlands are home to 100,000 migratory ducks, geese and
swans, and serve as an important migratory stop for the
red-crowned and white-naped crane, two of Asia's endangered

Despite its fragile and rich ecology, the Tumen river and delta
are now threatened by development and industrialization
pressures.  In 1992, the United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP) helped to launch the Tumen River Area Development Project
(TRADP).  The TRADP, which includes China, Russia, North Korea,
South Korea and Mongolia, is designed to create the first
international free trade zone in Northeast Asia. Although the
TRADP project is still being formulated, there are significant
new developments in the region.   These developments have a
profound effect on the environment, particularly the quality of
water in the Tumen and the downstream ecosystems that it feeds.

Not everyone supports industrialization in the Tumen watershed. 
Citizens, scientists, and wildlife specialists eager to preserve
the region's unique wetlands and biodiversity are resisting
development.  They are calling for the integration of
environmental protection into the economic planning process.   If
environmentalists succeed, the TRADP could emerge as a new
model of sustainable development.  If they fail, the Tumen delta
ecosystem, and the waterfowl and wildlife that depend on it, will
face an uncertain future. 

Environmental Cooperation Among the Tumen Countries

At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the United Nations and the
global community pledged to promote a new model for trade.  This
new model would incorporate environmental protection into the
development planning process.  With James Gustave Speth, founder
of the World Resources Institute and co-founder of the Natural
Resources Defense Council, as the new head of UNDP, many looked
to the TRADP as an opportunity to breathe life into Rio's

In early 1994, the UNDP brought the five TRADP nations together
to draft and negotiate a memorandum of understanding regarding
environmental protection.  This memorandum requires that the
countries undertake independent environmental assessment,
"identify common opportunities for sustainable development" and
"foster support for environmental cooperation."  

Under the memorandum, China, Russia, and North Korea -- the three
riparian nations -- will implement their own environmental
policies.  This strategy enables UNDP to avoid the thorny
sovereignty issues that often arise when international
institutions seek to amend national policies.  Moreover, if the
strategy succeeds, it will help strengthen the environmental
regulatory structure of Tumen's riparian countries.  This
could provide long-term benefits beyond Tumen and the TRADP.  

On the other hand, leaving the three financially strapped
riparian countries to implement their own policies may be wishing
too much.  These countries already have difficulty cooperating on
an economic or political level and may have further difficulties
in reaching consensus about protecting the environment.

Continuing Ecological Degradation

While the guidance of the UNDP and the memorandum of
understanding promote a strategy for sustainable development of
the Tumen, there are doubts over whether this strategy is being
put into practice.  Water quality in the Tumen River constitutes
a very serious environmental problem.  All sewage from the
Chinese sector, as well as significant quantities of sediment and
industrial effluents, discharge into the Tumen and its
tributaries.  It is estimated that 90% of water pollution in the
Tumen River system comes from four major sources: the Maoshan
iron mine, the Chinese Kaishantun Chemical Fibre Pulp factory,
Shiyan paper factory, and Awudi Chemical factory.  New and
revitalized industries in the Chinese sector include textiles,
pharmaceutical factories, and machine manufacturing.  Agriculture
and forestry occur alongside coal, gold and copper mining in the

Despite the tentative commitments of the riparian countries and
their consensus on protecting Tumen's wetlands, there are
indications that Tumen development is moving forward with
insufficient regard for environmental damage or mitigation. 
Reports of unchecked industrial expansion in Northern China and
the Russian Far East are increasing.

This expansion is due in large part to the powerful economic and
geopolitical forces driving the TRADP.  These include China's
voracious economy; Russia's eagerness for foreign currency;
Mongolia and the central Asian republics' interest in a
trans-Asian railroad as an alternative to the Trans-Siberian
Railway and a means of reducing their dependence on Russia for
trade and transport.  Japan and South Korea also view the
project as a means to increase trade, transport and investment in
the region.  

In a recent study prepared by Beijing's National Research Center
for Science and Technology for Development, Ma Jiang reported
that the construction and industrialization in Northeastern China
were causing severe environmental problems on land and water. 
According to the study, mining discharges, untreated sewage and
soil erosion are damaging the fragile ecosystems of such areas as
the Poisset Bay wetlands at the mouth of the Tumen.  Activities
such as mining and logging in the headwater region of the Tumen
River threaten the Changbai Mountain Forests, an internationally
recognized center of biological diversity.   Ma warned that
unless effective environmental protection laws are implemented,
unchecked and ecologically destructive development is likely to

In the Chinese sector of the Tumen River system water pollution
is worst. Recent plans for developing a massive irrigation and
hydropower system in Jilin province (in Northeast China) to
supply the TRADP region could reduce the flow and degrade the
quality of water in the Tumen tributaries, and threaten stream
habitat.  These and other large scale projects have limited
funding and little priority for environmental prefeasibility
studies that will help identify, prevent, or mitigate
ecologically destructive activities before they occur.  

Many citizens and researchers are skeptical of the effectiveness
of the environmental prefeasibility studies and impact
assessments, even if such studies and assessments are undertaken.

According to Deng Chun-Lang, an environmental scientist at
Beijing University, industrial development in China lacks
adequate environmental protection and assessment.  Deng
maintains that although environmental impact guidelines exist on
paper, the quality of the environmental impact statements is
usually poor, and "in reality they are just an administrative
formality."  These points were echoed by Cai Zhu Wan, Director of
the Hunchun City Environmental Protection Agency: "In China, even
if a developer pollutes, he must continue operations because
China still needs to develop."

Perhaps the most striking example of China's indifference to
environmental concerns is the construction and expansion of a
wall to protect a Chinese transport road from Tumen flow changes.

This wall, located on a portion of the Tumen 17 miles from the
Sea of Japan, is sited on a stretch of river that often changes
directions.  Vladimir Rakov, a Professor of Natural History at
the Russian Far Eastern University in Vladivostock, believes the
wall will likely result in severe flooding and ecological damage
on the Russian side.  Rakov forecasts that 40 square kilometers
of arable Russian land could be lost.  In this case, neither
ecological processes nor the downstream land-users are given
adequate consideration by the Chinese upstream developers.

China's disregard for environmental protection concerns in the
Tumen Region has prompted widespread international criticism. 
Some observers have accused the Chinese national government of
counting on the environmental sympathies of the international
community.  They claim Chinese officials may not deem it
necessary to set aside funds and human resources for
environmental protection because they expect that more
environmentally-minded nations and organizations will do so on
China's behalf. 

Russia, too, is guilty of environmental disregard.  In
anticipation of increased shipping and trade in the region,
Russia has proposed developing the Tumen city of Zarubino and the
surrounding Khasansky district into a major international sea
port.  This development calls for a massive expansion of train
and transportation systems, to link Zarubino with Inner
Siberia, China and Mongolia.  According to Paul Griffin, a U.S.
consultant who recently returned from Tumen, "environmental
impact assessment is being done, but simultaneously with, not
prior to, construction."  This is a parallel situation to that in
China.  Hence, even if environmental hazards are identified,
there is little opportunity for mitigation.

Others have voiced similar concerns.  Viktor Gorlach, Director of
the Russian Far East Marine Reserve, reports that environmental
protection laws are routinely ignored. Visitors to the area also
suspect that Russia may be dumping nuclear wastes in the Sea of
Japan adjacent to the Tumen delta.  

Nature Protection Efforts

While there are considerable economic and geopolitical forces
working against the sustainable development of the Tumen Region,
there are also forces working on its behalf.  Within China and
Russia, national efforts are underway to save the Tumen from the
consequences of unchecked industrial development.  These efforts
are being led by a broad spectrum of interests, including
university scientists, environmental ministry staff, and --
in Russia -- environmental citizen groups.

In China, the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences
(CRAES) conducted a comprehensive environmental survey of the
Tumen delta.  This survey, which was underwritten by the UNDP,
assessed the impacts of the TRADP, identified specific mitigation
strategies, and listed sensitive wetlands areas that should be
left undeveloped.  The recently completed CRAES survey
recommended the creation of a land-use management plan that would
specify permitted and prohibited uses based on each area's
identified ecological sensitivities.

The CRAES survey could prove to be of considerable political and
scientific use to planners in regional and national environmental
agencies. Many of these planners are committed to protecting the
Tumen, but lack the solid evidence to confront the powerful
forces advocating development. The survey may provide Chinese
environmentalists with the data they need to implement
significant policy reforms in the Tumen.

There are other positive environmental developments in China. 
First, the Changchun Institute of Geography (in Northeast China)
has been awarded a three year government contract to study
environmental changes in the lower Tumen and to develop
strategies to better integrate economic development and
environmental protection goals.  Second, the Jilin
Environmental Protection Bureau designed a plan for monitoring
and cleanup of whole river, with a target for controlling all
pollution sources by 1997 and meeting strict government water
quality standards by 2010.  The Jilin bureau has also begun
negotiations with North Korea to reduce that country's point
source water pollution in the upper reaches of the Tumen. 
Tang Yunti, an official with the Bureau, believes that these
negotiations are critical if China is to meet its environmental
and water quality objectives for the Tumen region.

In Russia, efforts are underway to create a huge wetlands
preserve (zakaznik) in Primorski, near the mouth of the Tumen. 
The proposed reserve would be off-limits to port development and
industrial activity, although limited hunting and fishing would
still be permitted.  The proposal has the support of the
Primorski Krai (regional government) Ministry of Ecology as well
as of hunters and fishermen who live and work in the area. 
Before the preserve can be formally recognized, Primorski law
requires the completion of an environmental inventory.

To help move the Russian project along, Friends of the Earth -
Japan(FOE) has agreed to provide additional funding to complete
the required study.  Josh Newell of FOE reports that the results
of the environmental inventory have reinforced Russia and
Primorski's initial determination that industrial development in
the Tumen region is unnecessary and unwise. Instead, the well
established and already polluted ports of Vladivostock and
Nahodka, located 200 miles north of the Tumen wetlands, should be
used as the main transport centers for the region.  FOE-Japan
believes that these existing ports should be modernized and
Tumen's fragile ecology should be left intact.

Environmentalists are also making some headway at the
international level. The UNDP has organized a Program Management
Committee, which convened two Preliminary Assessment Workshops
for the TRADP nations. These workshops, held in Helsinki in 1993
and Beijing in April, 1994, resulted in pledges to exchange
information on environmental management and a draft preliminary
environmental study.  This draft calls for in-depth
assessment of such issues as water pollution, wetlands
preservation and wildlife protection.  Moreover, Herb Berhstock,
the UNDP's point man for the Tumen, reported in March, 1995 that
all of the TRADP nations have indicated a readiness to initial
the environmental Memorandum of Understanding.  These pledges and
plans reveal that there is a framework for future environmental

The TRADP nations' support of the Memorandum of Understanding
indicates that the UNDP strategy is yielding some tangible
results.  As Nay Thun, Associate Administrator for the UNDP and
Director of the UNDP's Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific,
has stated, "Since the outset of the Tumen program in 1992, UNDP
has made every effort to ensure that sustainable development and
environmental protection will be placed on the agenda for the
participating countries.  Thus far they have taken significant
steps to affirm environmental principles and priorities that will
further protection of the wetlands."

Some funding for environmental work may come from the Global
Environmental Facility (GEF), currently administered by the World
Bank. All the countries involved in the TRADP, including Mongolia
and South Korea, have endorsed a joint resolution to seek
approximately $2 million in GEF funding.  This money would go
towards wetlands protection, marine conservation, environmental
assessment training, and biodiversity protection through land-use

Promoting Green Trade

The Far Eastern Economic Review, the leading weekly magazine for
Asian investors, recently reported that "bad economics have
derailed the United Nations' dream to turn the Tumen River delta
into a free trade zone."  According to the magazine, concerns
over environmental impacts could "doom Zarubino's expansion
plans."  Moreover, the November, 1994 story reported that the
UNDP's role has changed to "one which involves coordinating
development rather than imposing a grand master plan."  While
such reports may be viewed as a regional failure by some foreign
investors, they can only be viewed as progress by
environmentalists and proponents of sustainable economic growth. 
Controlled and well-conceived development is a large improvement
over the grandiose plans of the past.

Progressive voices and proposals must check forces pushing for
unrestrained development.  The international community should
support the efforts of Chinese, Russian and North Korean
advocates of environmental protection.  Governments and
foundations should grant additional funds and resources to
groups, universities, ministries and individuals committed to
protecting the region's ecological integrity.  By working to
improve their respective national environmental policies, these
citizens and organizations can help place the TRADP on a more
sustainable and responsible course.  In doing so, they can
provide Northeast Asia and other developing regions with a new
and better model for economic growth.

Armin Rosencranz, Paul Stanton Kibel and Jeanny Wang are,
respectively, president, staff lawyer and Tumen Environmental
Initiative director for the Pacific Environment and Resources
Center (PERC), 1055 Fort Cronkhite, Sausalito, California 94965,
USA.  The authors thank the Trust for Mutual Understanding for
their support of the research and writing of this article. 

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