Pyongyang International Science & Technology Book Fair 2014

With our colleague Ryan in Pyongyang 

With our colleague Ryan in Pyongyang 

Hmmm...what to fill that space with?

Hmmm...what to fill that space with?

September can a busy month in North Korea, as it hosts three international events that overlapped this year. For movie buffs, there is the spiffy not quite red carpet Pyongyang International Film Festival. For businesspeople, there was the Pyongyang Trade Fair and for us, the Pyongyang International Science & Technology Book Fair (PISTBF). Having been represented at PISTBF twice previously, it remains pretty much the same staid affair, except that guests now travel as part of a mish-mash convoy of vehicles.

We heard that the Pyongyang International Film Festival (PIFF) seems to be leading the pack in terms of innovation, with a new format somewhere in between the Oscars and a political lecture. The PIFF organizers decided to jazz things up with a male and female co-host bantering with each other on a set much alike those of modern movie awards, interjected by various performances. But they did not forget to include the odd politician delivering a speech. Some participants expressed nostalgia for the good ol’ DPRK-style film festival. 

Article in North Korean press on book fair. 

Article in North Korean press on book fair. 

We presented EdX at PISTBF. This was a good way for Korean students to access university courses at top universities around the world, when they get Internet access of course. This follows on our presentation on OpenCourseWare and Wikibooks in 2010, which people were fascinated by. We also exhibited books from the London School of Economics, Nanyang Technological University and other publishers. During the evening festivities, we ran into several alumni from our programs in Singapore and North Korea.

Party Secretary for Science & Technology Choe Tae Bok was the guest of honor for PISTBF, along with Chairwoman Kim Jong Suk of the Committee for Cultural Relations. At the opening banquet at the head table, both guest of honors were nested between Russians, and sang Russian songs with them. Russia is featuring more prominently at events in Pyongyang and the mutual courtship looks to be continuing.

Tatiana meets with the stars of 도시처녀 시집봐요

Tatiana meets with the stars of 도시처녀 시집봐요

Outside of PISTBF, we had a packed schedule of meetings with a microfinance company in Pyongyang, architects and urban planners, the Ministry of External Economy and most refreshingly, actors from a famous 1990s Korean movie (“City Girl Goes to get Married” - soundtrack here).  The actors emphasized that it was important for them to understand "world trends and tastes" and asks if us Philistines at Choson Exchange could consider expanding its work to the artistic arena.

We hope that the next PISTBF in 2016 would feature more innovation. Booths should have electricity so that they can do multimedia presentation, perhaps authors can give book talks or organizations can give pamphlets. And definitely, group discounts for hotel bookings. But all that would be an even bigger security nightmare, so I guess this would still be a long way off.  

Japan-DPRK Progress Stalls...

Japanese Press in Pyongyang last week, covering the visit of Japanese coming to visit the graves of family members in North Korea

Japanese Press in Pyongyang last week, covering the visit of Japanese coming to visit the graves of family members in North Korea

The question is, "is it a grinding halt or a temporary slowdown?"

For the past year, Japan and DPRK looked to be on the way towards repairing a relationship frozen since Prime Minister Koizumi’s visit in 2004. After secret talks that led into formal negotiations, Japan relaxed some of its autonomous sanctions when North Korea agreed to reinvestigate the abductions of Japanese. In the chill of DPRK-China relations, frozen ties with the US and South Korea, this was an perhaps unexpectedly bright spot in Korea’s foreign relations. But it seems that progress has stalled again.

Reports by Japanese press indicate that discussions over the preliminary abductee report have broken down. By all indications, the content of the preliminary report, which will be delayed, will not please the Japanese public. It appears that no new information regarding the officially recognized abductees will be released. Japan has signaled that it will reject the results of the preliminary investigation. North Korea has emphasized that full investigations will take a year to complete.

Questions loom on how this breakdown came about. A likely reason could be North Korean displeasure with the degree to which Japan is willing to provide aid in exchange for progress on the abductions issue. In the weeks leading up to this, North Korea signaled desire for further measures from Japan including the delivery of humanitarian aid. On the high end of numbers, North Korean has always tried to secure “war reparations” from Japan, supposedly with some proposals calling for up to $20 Billion.

Or perhaps the powers that be concluded that damaging revelations are not worth the benefits that would accrue from progress here. There are elites who surely believed that the admission of the abductions in the 2000s was a mistake. With Kim Jong Un absent from any public appearances for the last two weeks, possibly from ill health or other more mundane reasons, one wonders if that has impacted the nature of the preliminary report.

North Korea has not closed the door entirely. The reinvestigation supposedly goes on. But the question is whether both sides can agree on a deal. It is truly disappointing to see this happen, and the prospect for improved Japan-DPRK relations, for a moment tantalizingly close, once again seems distant. It is now up to decision-makers in Pyongyang and Tokyo to see if they can can find an acceptable agreement during the delay. If not, one or both governments might just decide the status quo will do.

Feasibility Studies, Project Economics and a Puzzle

Perhaps not a sexy title for a blog post, but important, nonetheless. Because, as one Korean told us:

“We often prepare proposals to potential investors, but they are less interested after seeing them. More than subjective proposals, I understand that items with concrete numbers reflected in cash-flow models are very important.”

-Participant Feedback

In July, a Choson Exchange team traveled to Pyongyang and Wonsan to deliver a workshop titled “Introduction to Cost-Benefit Analysis and Project Economics.” Workshop sessions in both cities focused on the policies and provisions necessary to make investments successful, especially in the context of Special Economic Zones. In the DPRK in 2013 a new SEZ policy was established, as well as a new organizations to oversee them, which have since been in flux. There is a palpable passion for investment and economic issues, but there are significant knowledge gaps and serious misunderstandings about what investors want to see in an SEZ.

The Crowd in Wonsan

The Crowd in Wonsan

Our workshop attempted to address some of these through some basic economics principles, before moving towards project and cash-flow modeling. The basics centered on trade-offs and opportunity cost: the notion that lose what you would have gained from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. It included this tricky puzzle - 

Please circle the best answer to the following question:

You won a free ticket to see a piano concert (which you cannot sell on to someone else).  An orchestra is performing on the same night and is your next-best alternative. Tickets to see the orchestra cost $40On any given day, you would be willing to pay up to $50 to see the orchestra.  Assume there are no other costs of seeing either performance.  Based on this information, what is the opportunity cost of seeing the piano concert? 

(a)$0    (b) $10   (c) $40  (d) $50           (Source: Paul Ferraro and Laura Taylor)

Don't feel bad if you didn't pick the correct answer, which you'll find at the bottom of this page. Only 21.6% of surveyed participants at an Allied Social Sciences Association (ASSA) meeting got it right, and they were mostly economics Phds. We didn't track individual answers, but in our sessions, a low number got it right. (the author of this blogpost was sadly with the majority)

Once participants mastered the basic principles of economics, the workshop introduced tools private investors use to quantify the value of an investment and analyse decisions: time value of money, discounting, the link between risk and expected return, assessing uncertainty, cash flow modeling and cost estimating. A few keen participants even asked for a demonstration in Excel!

Ultimately, the more complicated content, including accounting for inflation, the time value of money and discounting, project valuation and cash flow modeling led to these key questions:

Why invest?

What makes a good investment? 

Too often, the tools used to assess benefits and risks are not employed by the people tasked with doing trade, attracting investment or developing zones in the DPRK. Nor is there enough understanding of just how much planning based on hard numbers is generally put into investment. Some of the participants were familiar with some of the concepts, but for the vast majority, this was an eye-opening introduction to the thinking that should drive investment decisions.  

The crowd at the Grand People's Study House, Pyongyang

The crowd at the Grand People's Study House, Pyongyang

On a positive note, there was very, very high interest in the topic. The participant numbers smashed CE records for participants in one week: 42 people took part in Wonsan and 86 in Pyongyang. 


Ten bucks. Then answer is (b). For real. Check the internet.

Tech Start PY - Can North Korea create a startup culture?

Korean participants play Angel Investors by investing fake money in ideas other participants created and pitched in a workshop

Korean participants play Angel Investors by investing fake money in ideas other participants created and pitched in a workshop

We just completed a two-week workshop in North Korea as part of our “Tech Start PY” program in August. Tech Start PY is focused on helping build an entrepreneurial culture and a supportive environment for startups in North Korea. 

Tech entrepreneurship in North Korea might seem to be an odd notion. This, after all, is an industry that requires Internet access and smartphone usage. Entrepreneurs also need to be plugged into a highly connected global network of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, programmers and users to compete at the cutting edge. Despite the handicaps that they face, Korean researchers and businesspeople were keen to learn about the topic and especially how they can commercialize  research. The researchers we interacted with admit that they lack entrepreneurial experience, and hope to gain exposure to entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to bridge the divide between research and industry.

Connectivity is Key

While Korea has programmers who are technically proficient, workshop leaders emphasized that they cannot build successful tech-oriented business without connectivity. They need to be able to see in practice how customers use products on their mobile phones and on the web. They need to see what products are on the market, and need to interact frequently with programmers, venture capitalists and other entrepreneurs to understand where the market opportunities are. Moreover, they need to understand who their competitors are.

This problem became evident during small group consultations we ran, where 2 or 3 Koreans could approach an idle workshop leader during another lecture. A small company pitched an optical character recognition (OCR) software they were developing, which scans images, recognizes characters and converts them into text. They have been developing the product for more than a year, and wanted investors to fund the completion of the product. A workshop leader said 'hey, I have something like that right here,' and showed a year-old OCR app he had on his ipad. The product manager immediately realized that his software would not be competitive with what has been on the market for a year already. The workshop leader suggested that they could partner with a company with an existing product, and carve out a niche by working on Korean text recognition. This, as they understood, would require a degree of research into the field - something they seem not to have been able to do.

We were also proud to be (probably) the first to introduce participants to venture capital firm KPCB Mary Meeker’s excellent report on tech trends.

On an non-workshop day, we were taken to see Unjong Technology Zone, just north of Pyongyang, which the Academy of Sciences ambitiously hope will flourish into a North Korean Silicon Valley someday. One idea we broached during the workshop seemed to fit in with that aspiration.

Incubators as Test Beds

Participants quickly became excited about the concept of an incubator, an environment that would help turn ideas into products. While promoting the usefulness of incubators, we also pointed out that a successful incubator, which brings together startups, technology, support services, funding and training under a suitable incentive structure, is a microcosm of the larger ecosystem they need to create for businesses and investors.

Participants often focus too much on hard infrastructure (e.g. the incubator facilities), and not enough on soft infrastructure (e.g. the networks, mentorship and business environment – i.e. the entrepreneurship ecosystem). The former is a lot more visible as a milestone - certainly in a country with minimal internet access - and easier to set up.  But a workshop leader with policy experience emphasized that the latter is far more important, and far more difficult to create. Some forward-thinking participants were able to grasp the value of an incubator space that would allow them to gain exposure to entrepreneurial skillsets, demonstrating that they were thinking about tackling the soft infrastructure problem already. We are keen to continue helping the Korean participants learn more about incubators, and perhaps support them in setting up one if the conditions are right. 

For the August program, we had a strong team of workshop leaders, including successful venture capitalists that founded companies with successful exits, founders of incubators, and policymakers developing entrepreneurship ecosystems in Asia. The general impression was one of tremendous opportunity once restraints are relaxed.

Around 40-50 Koreans attended the two-week program, and represented a diverse cross-segment of the tech sector, from researchers and aspiring entrepreneurs, to entrepreneurs, business managers, and IT association representatives. Who knows, maybe we'll see some of them in that DPRK-Silicon Valley, working in hoodies, playing foosball on their lunch and taking breaks in nap pods. Or if that's a cultural step too far, at least starting small companies and getting them growing.

 

Pyongyang's September Surprise

The scene of the ALS ice bucket challenge by CE in August.

The scene of the ALS ice bucket challenge by CE in August.

September looks to be a potentially interesting month in North Korea diplomatic relations, in what has been a relatively quiet year.

Just in case you forgot how quiet it is this year relative to last year, remember that Rodman visits have been replaced by lower-key Inoki wrestling, nuclear tests and the March declaration of war footing have been replaced by short-range rocket launches, and the shuttering of Kaesong Industrial Complex has been replaced by bickering over the sending of North Korean cheerleaders to Seoul. It has been a relatively tranquil year... and no major political figures have been executed yet.

So what surprises are in store for September. The month will be kicked off Kang Sok Ju's visit to Europe next week. He will prime European partners on what might be in store for DPRK's diplomatic direction in the coming months. But the real action kicks in further into the month, with Ri Su Yong heading to New York to address the United Nations. While US relations remain in a rut, Ri Su Yong is likely to extend some opportunities for dialogue with the US.

With South Korea, there will be a squad of visiting North Korean athletes heading to the Asian Games in Incheon. As the Ministry of Unification unveils their agenda for North Korea, which contains surprising details on potential infrastructure investment in the North, the event could provide opportunities for announcing public commitments of cooperation. The key question is whether both sides can find enough common ground as each side maneuvers to engage on their own terms. 

And potentially the biggest upside surprise could be between Tokyo and Pyongyang. September is when North Korea is supposed to unveil the findings of its abduction reinvestigations. This unveiling could make or break the positive progress between the two countries. North Korea's delay of the announcement towards the end of the month could help make September end with a bang.

For all you North Korean news junkies, September could be your month!

 

 

The Christmas Trees of Pyongyang

A first-time visitor to Pyongyang's restaurants could be forgiven for thinking she was in the most pro-Christmas town in Asia. Just kidding, that person would not be forgiven for being interminably stupid. Indeed, while such a person may not exist, it is clear that Christmas trees are everywhere in Pyongyang, year round. In the DPRK, they adorn mostly 'fancy' places. 

Its a great example of Saussurean semiotics. The arbitrariness of the tree itself is clear: the meaning for us is bound up in our cultural and personal histories, while a Korean sees a pretty tree with lights acting (I suspect) as a form of shorthand for classy, cosmopolitan and bright. Certainly nothing to do with the birth of a baby in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

All these pictures are from August.


O Tannenbaum

O Tannenbaum

Two for one.

Two for one.

Oh Christmas Tree

Oh Christmas Tree

how lovely 

how lovely 

are your branches?

are your branches?

Christmas bulgogi, no need to carve.

Christmas bulgogi, no need to carve.

The History of Chinese Entrepreneurs in North Korea

The Chinese Korean community (Hwagyo/华侨/Huaqiao) play a special role in the entrepreneurial community in North Korea and as such has been of great interest to Choson Exchange. Given their ability to cross the North Korea-China border easily, their relative ease of movement inside North Korea, and their exposure to entrepreneurship in China, they are well-equipped to capitalize on market opportunities inside Korea. In this guest article, Fyodor Tertitsky, a scholar who focuses on this important community, gives an overview of the history of the Hwagyo in the country.

The usual image of North Korea is that it is a highly centralised state with a mono-ethnic and closed society. The population is brought together and atomised through a set of state regulations, the people cannot live the country without a permission form the state and access to foreign media is strictly forbidden.

This perception is to a very large extent true. However, there are some people in North Korea, who do not fit this scheme. The can freely listen to foreign radio. They can cross the border with China and go back – whenever they want and without any problems. They are also very wealthy - by North Korean standards, of course. No, I am not talking about the Party elite. In fact, this people are explicitly forbidden to enter the Party – and, to my knowledge, there was only one exception, granted by Kim Il-sung himself.

This group are the Hwagyo – residents of North Korea who hold Chinese citizenship. The majority of the diaspora are the descendants of the people who migrated to colonial Korea from different areas of China. When the victorious Allies divided Korea in 1945 and the Soviet authorities began to build a new state in northern Korea, they decided to grant Hwagyo identity documents which defied them as foreigners living in northern Korea. It seems that this act created the status that Hwagyo still enjoy – Chinese citizens with the permanent residents’ rights in North Korea.

Initially they were given a preferential treatment by the North Korean government: they had they own schools, enjoyed some degree of autonomy and were given some assistance from the state on regular basis. The DPRK also helped Hwagyo to rebuild their homes after the Korean War ended. However, a few years after the Chinese troops left Korea, Kim Il-sung started an assimilation campaign: the North Korean authorities began to encourage the Hwagyo to renounce their Chinese passports and accept North Korean citizenship. In 1963, the language of tuition in Hwagyo schools was switched from Chinese to Korean and the curriculum was unified with that of North Korea.

When Mao Zedong launched a Cultural Revolution, the already tense relations between China and North Korea quickly degraded to open animosity. Most Hwagyo faced increasing discrimination and were forced to change their citizenship to North Korea, but even this did not completely liberate them from discrimination. The confrontation culminated in August 1966, when some students from the Pyongyang Secondary School for Chinese prepared posters hailing Chairman Mao, and organised meetings at which they listened to Mao Zedong’s speeches and sang songs hailing the PRC. Moreover, they even requested “Mao Zedong Thought” to be incorporated into the school’s curriculum! Needless to say, the request was denied. Later, the school was disbanded by the North Korean authorities.

The late 1960s were the darkest hour for the diaspora. It ended in 1971, when, after the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai’s visit to the DPRK, the relations between the two countries were normalised and many Hwagyo were able to reinstate their status as Chinese citizens. The Pyongyang Secondary school was reopened too, by the way.

In the 1980s many Hwagyo forever left North Korea for China. The cause was simple: under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping China was prospering. Another factor which contributed to this was the special programme of assistance to the repatriated Chinese citizens, initiated by Beijing.

In 1990s North Korea faced a period of famine and economic collapse; this tragedy took lives of many people. After the famine, the country saw what is usually called “marketization from below”: farmers’ markets emerged across the country, and North Koreans started to obtain products they need by buying them on markets, not by receiving them from the state – which was the usual practice in Kim Il-sung era. Understandably, the modern days became a golden era for Hwagyo. Their right to go to China – and back – meant that they could buy Chinese goods, bring them to Korea and sell them. Most people did so – and their income skyrocketed.

Nowadays Hwagyo constitute a vital part of the new, marketised North Korea. Not only could they bring goods and control trade networks, but they could also deliver money to North Koreans from their relatives. Their income is much higher than the average North Korean – not only do they have electricity for the whole day (electricity is usually provided for a few hours in Pyongyang and for a few minutes in a faraway province), but many of them also live a private house with all modern home appliances and gadgets. Hwagyo families very often own a motorcycle and sometimes even a car. They can listen to foreign radio channels (officially they are supposed to listen to official Chinese news, but, of course, they don’t listen just them) and read Chinese newspapers. All is – more or less – well.

However, the young Hwagyo are not as enthusiastic about continuation of their lifestyle, as they parents are. The education in North Korean “Schools for Chinese” is substandard: most graduates barely speak any Chinese and don’t know what the PRC’s flag looks like or what city is the capital of China. Therefore many young Hwagyo study in China, - and after they see the country, many conclude that the PRC – with its diverse culture and booming economy – offers more opportunities.

So many young people choose to settle in China – where they, Chinese citizens, are of course welcomed. The Hwagyo diaspora, which according to the Chinese estimates comprised of 5000 persons in 2009, continues to shrink and we may see it disappearing almost completely.

 

A longer and more detailed version of this article is scheduled to be published in The Journal of Korean Studies, Spring 2015.

Gold Cup Coffeeshop

Next up in the potential adventures of a Pyongyang coffee aficionado and bon vivant: Gold Cup Coffeeshop. This delightful cafe charms you from the moment you enter with a touchscreen menu that manages to feel both modern and painfully antiquated all at the same time, like the computer displays in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Adding to that vibe are curious '10-Forward' crystalline chandeliers and disco-blue lighting. The homage is unintentional: when I walked up to the bar and stated "tea, earl grey, hot" I received a well-justified blank stare.

Retro? Futuristic?

Retro? Futuristic?

The coffee here is cheaper than at some places in town: $3.50 for an espresso. The double shot I got was of a good consistency, not over pulled or mis-prepared in any way. It tasted of burnt chocolate and toast. There was a dullness that suggests the beans were roasted some time ago. Ultimately, not a bad effort, but not the best in town.

Shiny.

Shiny.

As most cafes are in Pyongyang, this one is attached to a restaurant. The eponymous Gold Cup restaurant is a part of a company that does a few different things, some connected to sports. Hence, "gold cup". As yet, there doesn't seem to be a coffeeshop that can stand alone on cafe fare - the market doesn't quite seem ready to bear such a venture yet.

attentive barrister

attentive barrister

Service was good and if one is homesick for say a UK high street or a Beijing mall, one can just stare at the demitasse while sipping. (Physically a challenge, I know.)

No, it isn't a Costa.

No, it isn't a Costa.

Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong's Southeast Asia Tour Roundup

Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong has a reputation among people who have worked with him, both Koreans and foreigners, as someone who is innovative, open-minded, and results-oriented. You can read his biography at NKleadershipwatch. FM Ri is now on a whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia with stops in Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia and finally Singapore. FM Ri seems to be getting high level access, especially with meetings with Thein Sein and Jokowi in Myanmar and Indonesia. 

Here is a quick roundup of headlines from FM Ri’s ASEAN tour.

Laos - Not much headlines from this leg except for the usual news about renewing fraternal ties. Its likely that the North Korean refugee issue was one of the bilateral concerns raised, as Laos is often a stopover point for North Koreans making their way out of China to the South. 

Vietnam - General talk of cooperation but Vietnamese press emphasizing a focus on economic cooperation and sharing of economic development experiences. North Korea had a few public delegations last year to Vietnam via groups such as Rodong Sinmun and the Agriculture Union. Vietnam’s Women Union also visited North Korea in October last year.

Myanmar - Seems to be a productive trip with FM Ri meeting the Foreign Ministers of China and Japan. South Korean press focused on the underreporting in China and North Korea of the meeting with China FM Wang Yi. They claim the China-DPRK relationship freeze continues.

Japanese news focused on Japan FM Kishida’s meeting with FM Ri at an informal level, and that reassurances were made that the reinvestigation into the abductee issue was making progress.

Some Western analysts focused on alleged continuing military ties between Myanmar and North Korea, as FM Ri met with Thein Sein and the Minister of Defence. 

Indonesia - Indonesia has been trying to play a role as a peace mediator for North Korea. President-elect Jokowi  and FM Marty both met with FM Ri and intriguingly, Indonesian press mentioned that FM Ri had proposed “concrete” proposals to advance peace in the region. We will see if these proposals are truly new and whether they will gain traction with the US and South Korea. 

Singapore - FM Ri is in Singapore now. Let’s see what the press comes up with. But generally, official Korean visits to Singapore tend to focus on investment attraction. 

Hwanggumpyong's Master Plan

Hwanggumpyong, an SEZ that was carved out with some fanfare in 2011, remains a placid, pastoral scene. When you approach its gates, over a portion of the Yalu that is no more than a trickle, you're met by a friendly guard who mostly keeps the kids of tourists from squeezing through gaps in the fence. You're also faced with signage explaining Hwanggumpyong's masterplan.

This is interesting information. One of the recurring takeaways from CE programs is the need for greater we connectivity and a greater web presence. I've spent some time now searching both the Korean and the English web and can't find this plan, but perhaps my google-fu/naver-do is weak. At any rate, one should be able to find this stuff more easily. 

Below is an English translation of the billboard followed by pictures.

Translations by Wang Xingyu and Alicia Bang.

 

Huangjinping Economic Zone Overall Planning 

Huangjinping is affiliated with Huangjinping, Ryongchon, North Pyongan Province in North Korea.  It is located in the lower reaches of Yalu River, the Northwestern North Korea, and connects with Dandong through a landway. Huangjinping is 10 km from Yalu River, and 20 km from Wihwa Island, 16 km from Sinuiju, 220 km from Pyongyang, 400 km from Seoul, 240 km from Shenyang and 300 km from Dalian. 20-kilometre radius around Huangjinping Economic Zone, the transportation infrastructure facilities are comprehensive, including a port (Dandong Port), three highways (Shenyang-Dandong, Dandong-Tonghua and Dandong-Dalian), one airport (Langtou Airport), two cross-boarder bridge (Yalu River Bridge and New Yalu River Road Bridge), and three railroads (Northeast eastern railroad, Shenyang-Dandong Passenger Transport Line, Dandong-Dalian express railroad).

The total area of Huangjinping Economic Zone is 14.49 km², which consists of the main island, inner island and upper island.

All planned out.

All planned out.

Map Key

Map Key

Planning Huangjinping Economic Zone to build up “five main industries” development:

1.     Electronic Information Industry

Will mainly produce computers, communication equipment, instruments and apparatus, etc. Also will develop software outsourcing industry.

2.     Garment Processing Industry

Will mainly produce brand-name clothes and accessories, and also all kinds of clothes products that North Korea needs.

3.     Modern Efficient Agricultural Industry

Will mainly produce modern facility agriculture and food processing industry.

4.     Cultural Tourist Industry

Will focus on folk culture, business conferences, competitive athletics, agricultural tours and other tourist projects. Also will develop animation creations and tourist projects based on the theme of “Arirang”.

5.     Commercial Service Industry

Focuses on processing commerce and service commerce, and develops logistics, business, finance and other service industries. 

Meanwhile, the Chinese side of the border looks increasingly ready to handle heavier trade flows. A huge and mostly empty 'New Dandong' has been built, which looks like it has housing capacity to at least double the population of the city. It has a new immigration facility. The Yalu River bridge linking the two countries appears very near completion - the guard noted this would be a very quick way to link traffic to and from the island to the Korean 'mainland'. New Dandong has wide boulevards, easy for truckers to happily navigate and get quickly onto highways rather than lumber around central Dandong, where the old bridge is located.

Now, of course, a masterplan is just an idea. A quick review of this one suggest if not a degree of ambition, at least the sense that a wide variety of non-capital intensive industries might work. Textiles are an obvious one and it is nice to see a more pragmatic 'electronics' appear, rather than the elusive 'high-tech' that the DPRK so desires. Assembly of CD players or USB sticks is a more likely goal. Tourism is also included, which makes sense, given that millions of domestic tourists visit Dandong, mostly to gawk at North Korea.

Food processing is also a good idea, too, given the location: Hwanggumpyong is essentially in the heart of China's corn and soy belt and would have easy access to a growing Korean and Northeast Chinese market for the kind of crappy processed foods of which corn and soy are the foundations. But, like so many of these things, having a Korean company put down some roots to demonstrate viability would be good. Any large factory will need power, though.

That is where complications begin and where the masterplan remains silent. Any large investment on the island would require a lot of electricity, which will have to be supplied from China and would have to be timed to come online about the same as a factory or cluster of factories. That takes coordination, stability and...well...things that aren't quite there yet.

 

And just to play us out, a classic from the 1990s, whose lyrics are about masterplans and possibly accepting frustrating situations. (Though really, one has to think Noel Gallagher would just pick whatever rhymed.)