North Korea's economic dreams are, well ... dreams

Sun Nov 4, 2012 4:45pm EST
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By Ju-min Park

DANDONG, China (Reuters) - A lonely farmer and his ox-cart are the only sign of activity on a dusty island meant to be an industrial hub that will raise North Korea's wrecked economy.

Despite talk of reform by the secretive state after the third generation of the Kim family dynasty took over nearly a year ago, about all that seems to be growing is the gap between the tiny population of rich and the already malnourished poor.

And while the government is hoping to lure in foreign investment, more often the money, and tens of thousands of workers, are heading out of the impoverished North.

The 14 square km (5.4 square mile) Hwanggumphyong island is one of four economic zones that were designed to be a magnet for Chinese capital and manufacturing.

It lies on the Yalu river, across from the bustling Chinese border city of Dandong and one of the few areas where North Korea allows its citizens contact with the outside world.

Chinese investors are showing little appetite for North Korea, whose economy is worse off than it was 20 years ago from a combination of sanctions over its nuclear weapons ambitions, famine and mismanagement.

"We Chinese would like to go to North Korea to invest because they have space for business. But policies are not stable, so we dare not invest there," said trader Zheng Qiwei from the Chinese coastal province of Zhejiang, far from North Korea.

Zheng said an acquaintance of his, a businessman from China's Liaoning province that borders the North, had invested 240 million yuan ($38.48 million) to sell machinery, but was "driven out", an experience that is becoming common.   Continued...

Women work in the Kim Jong-suk Pyongyang Silk Mill in Pyongyang in this April 9, 2012 file photo. The factory is named after the wife of North Korea founder Kim Il-sung. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/Files