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Michael Madden is an NK News Pro leadership specialist and the sole author and editor of the website NK Leadership Watch.
North Korean newspaper the Rodong Sinmun has admitted that the DPRK’s work on creating Special Economic Zones has not been successful as was initially hopes, in a report published on October 23.
In an usually frank admission at the Pyongyang International Conference on Special Economic Trade Zone Development, the Workers’ Party newspaper conceded that “normal” development of the SEZ did not take place for 16 years after its establishment.
Interestingly, the report also admitted that the DPRK had studied other country’s models for development and special economic zones and will continue to do so.
According to the report, the conference – held “at a time when all of the country’s people were undertaking powerful struggles to highly uphold the party’s strategic line and start a great turnabout in the construction of an economically powerful state” – provided an “important opportunity to show the peace-loving stance and policies of our party and the Republic’s government concentrating efforts on economic development and the improvement of the people’s living standards.” The Rodong said the conference as “meaningful and useful” for its participants.
The Rodong described the political environment under which the country convened the conference by highlighting the completion of the Munsu Water Park and Kim Jong Un’s attendance and concerts by two DPRK performing troupes and a Russian orchestra. The Rodong claimed that at these events, “the whole world was witness to the policy of a state directing attention to international exchanges in the field of art and the people-loving politics of the Workers‘ Party of Korea, committed to creating the best in the world for the interests of the people, no matter how much it costs”.
The featured speaker during an October 16 session on SEZ case studies was Director of the Korea Economic Development Association Yun Yong Suk, who “gave an overview of the policies of our policies had been consistently maintaining in the area of external economic cooperation and the state of external economic activities of the previous period.”
“Economic experts and scholars from foreign countries showed interest in his presentation on the state of our country’s external economic cooperation work developing toward new higher stages in recent years,” the Rodong declared. Yun presented “case studies” on Rason, Hwanggumpyong and Wihwado and Mt. Kumgang. The afternoon session focused on the management of SEZs with the keynote speaker being Dr. Kang Jong Nam of KIS University College of Law. Kang lectured about the DPRK’s laws on special economic zones and said that the country hoped to develop “14 economic development zones” and that “subsequent legal measures on the development and management and operation of special economic zones are being newly implemented, while work is getting underway to amend and supplement existing rules and regulations.”
Kang also also discussed the January 1993 Law on the Rason Economic and Trade Zone, passed by the Supreme People’s Assembly Presidium, and the DPRK Law on Economic Development Zones passed by the SPA Presidium in May 2013. According to Rodong, “Dr. Kang’s presentation helped foreign economic experts gain a deep understanding of the Law on Special Economic Zones today established as a single indepedent legal system in our country.”
On October 17, the morning session focused on developing the DPRK’s SEZs. Kim Hong Il, an economic department dean at KIS University, lectured on the development of SEZs. Kim spoke about the original DPRK Cabinet Decree which created the Rason Economic and Trade Zone on December 28, 1991. He also conceded that “development work in this zone, which called the ‘Golden Triangle’ did not proceed normally for a certain period of time.”
Based on the excerpt of his remarks in Rodong, Kim traced “progress” in Rason’s development to a visit there by late leader Kim Jong Il in December 2009. Kim also discussed Hwanggumpyong/Wihwa and Mt. Kumgang.
On the Kaesong Industrial Zone, where business operations were suspended for nearly six months in 2013, he said the zone was “boldly created and operated in an area close to the Military Demarcation Line, despite the volatile military and political situations there for the purpose of proving support for the fatherland’s reunification through independent and peaceful methods based on North-South economic cooperation.”
Kim Hong Il ended his presentation saying “currently with their feet planted in their own land and their eyes set on the world, our country’s external economic experts are brimming with confidence as they turn special economic zones into a stage for economic cooperation toward achieving common prosperity with many countries around the world.” Kim’s closing remarks used a variation of a slogan that appeared in DPRK state media in 2010 during Kim Jong Un’s hereditary succession drive (“with our eyes on the world while having one’s feet planted in one’s country”).
The conference’s last session included a presentation on an execution plan for SEZ development in the DPRK from Choe Hyon Chol, a section chief in the Korea Economic Development Association who Rodong described as “a young presenter” whose “voice was full confidence” and who had a “deep understanding of how development zones evolved in many countries and regions around the world as an economic professional.”
Choe “explained the various economic development zones envisioned by our country and the comprehensive and reliable set of incentive measure planned for those development zones.” Choe also “stressed the important need to train many competent and promising people capable of handling this work on the development of special economic zones” and “expressed a willingness to arrange experience seminars, investment forums, and exhibitions to actively promote an atmosphere of international investment and cooperation for special economic zones in our country.”
Rodong Sinmun’s coverage of the SEZ conference was rather extraordinary and had some interesting revelations about DPRK policy approaches in SEZ development and foreign trade:
Picture: Rodong Sinmun