Northeast Asia is a cluster of countries with wide differences in political systems, stages of economic development, levels of technology, and natural resource endowments. In addition, infrastructures of national economies are mutually complementary: Japan and Korea have capital and technology on the one hand and Russia and China enjoy abundant resources and cheap labor. Yet many socio-political elements have so far barred active economic cooperation among Northeast Asian national economies from becoming a reality, such as, North Korean nuclear issues, different ideologies, unstable political systems, and anti-Japanese sentiments.
The Irkutsk Pipeline Projects can be a litmus test for the future economic cooperation in the region. Market forces in Russia, Japan, South Korea and China increasingly tend to jump national boundaries and to escape political control, seeking for economic profits, whereas socio-political factors have tendency to restrict and channel the economic activities. Thus, problems of the Irkutsk Pipeline Projects lie in how and where those positive and negative factors are reconciled.