A Hong Kong based company is investing in one of North Korea’s Special Economic Zones (SEZs), according to an article in state-run media outlet the Pyongyang Times published on Monday.
The article claims that Shengrun Investment Stock Co Ltd is currently engaged in two different tourism related projects.
“(The company) pushes ahead with the two projects for tourism in the Mt Paektu area and development of the Mubong International Tourism Special Zone … The project for the international tourism special zone,” it reads.
There are numerous companies in Hong Kong with similar names to the one given in North Korean state media, though none appear to have websites or readily available contact details.
The most similarly named is Hong Kong Shengrun Investment Shares Limited. The company was set up in 2011 and is still listed as active.
The small town near the Chinese border and North Korea’s Paekdu mountain tourism hotspot was designated as an SEZ in April last year.
Since then, reports from Chinese media published in subsequent months indicated that tours were running to the area from Helong, a nearby Chinese border town. An article published in August 2015 said there were buildings under construction in the Mubong SEZ.
“The Hong Kong Shengrun Investment company is responsible for the operations and development of the Special Zone, and will greatly improve North Korea’s capacity to receive tourists. The aim is for a daily visitor capacity of 300 people,” it reads.
“Construction is currently still ongoing. A 20 square km area that is under development and scheduled for completion at the end of August. Once it’s completed, it should be able to take 500 visitors,” the article added.
A tour guide is also quoted in the same article who claims that two or three day trips to Mt Paekdu and the Mubong area are popular with Chinese tourists, with around 120 heading over each week in the summer months last year.
The dates however clash with the information contained within the Pyongyang Times article, which said that tourism to the area had started in June 2016.
The Pyongyang Times article also adds the work has so far involved setting up a power grid in the area. If accurate, the new infrastructure could possibly link up to the recently completed Paekdusan hydro power station.
Satellite imagery from the area has not been updated since last year, however North Korea watching site 38 North did find that the nearby border crossing between China and North Korea had been added between 2009 and 2014.
While there is often a disconnect between North Korea’s plans for its SEZs and visible progress at the sites, a 2015 report from the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) was relatively upbeat about the Mubong zone.
“This location is considered to be relatively well-equipped with tourism infrastructure compared to other regions, and expected to perform favorably in attracting outside investment,” the report reads, citing previous construction that began when the DPRK was hopeful it would host the Winter Olympic games.
Despite the Mubong SEZ’s potential however, Andray Abrahamian from Choson Exchange urged caution.
“That (SEZ) is inching forward as they try to make cross border tourism to Paekdusan easier and more comfortable. Still, wait to see pictures,” Abrahamian told NK News.
Additional reporting by Jennifer Dodgson