KCNA ran a story about Rason on Monday in both Korean and English. The story informs us that the paving of the Road to Rason, which was initially hoped to be completed before the onset of winter last year, is still not finished. It is now expected to be completed within 2012. Reports from visitors this spring have indicated that it is "almost done". One wonders if they plan to have a grand unveiling just before or during the 2nd (Annual?) Rason International Trade Exhibition, which runs from August 20th to the 23rd.
The report also mentions that progress is being made on a mixed use railway line from Rason to the border at the Tumen River. It also mentions that plans for the three-nation Tumen triangle tours (to borrow a Koryo Tours phrase) are proceeding apace and that the self-drive Rason tours "are popular". Following traditional DPRK style, specific numbers are lacking.
Perhaps most interestingly, in the original Korean report, the legal reforms of December 2011 (Juche 100 to some of us) as "amending entirely" the Rason Special Economic Zone. (The English version just says the law was "amended and supplemented".)
There are a number of important changes in the newest version of the legal code. Perhaps most importantly, there is clearer delineation of the responsibilities of the Rason People's Committee and the central government. Interestingly, there are now also provisions for telecommunications to be used 'freely' in the zone.
In fact, however, the legal changes made in in January 2010 were probably more significant, having cut out provincial governance and given local authorities more autonomy. Drawing attention to and praising the reforms from 7 months ago does associate the changes in Rason with Kim Jong Il's last days, however, thus implying they are in accordance with his final wishes. Obviously, this confers legitimacy on the current development decisions being taken there.
Meanwhile, Asahi Shinbun recently reported that in January, Chinese businessmen living in North Korea established an association in Rason, saying "they wanted to serve as a bridge between the North Korean government and Chinese companies."
Unfortunately, fixed hyper-linking is tough in the revamped KCNA website. Just visit KCNA and search for 'Rason'.