Entrepreneur tries to breathe life into the North

Joong Ang Daily
Lee Jung-min
1/9/2007

One of North Korea’s capitalist experiments may be awakening from hibernation. “The North’s National Economic Cooperation Federation and Tumen River Development Limited Company of South Korea have reached an agreement to build a heavy and chemical industry complex in Rajin-Sonbong district,” Oh Myoung-hwan, the president of the South Korean company, said yesterday. “We also agreed to carry out jointly a Mount Paektu tour project.” A letter of intent will be signed in Vladivostok, Russia, today, Mr. Oh said.

Mr. Oh, whose company is headquartered in Vladivostok, said Russian natural resources would be processed by North Korean workers in plants built with South Korean capital and technology. He added that he has informed the Unification Ministry in Seoul of his plans.

The National Economic Cooperation Federation is a North Korean foreign economic agency. Mr. Oh said Ryo So-hyon, the federation’s Vladivostok office head, will sign the letter of intent for the North Koreans.

A government official in Seoul speculated that North Korea is looking for new projects because its nuclear test in October triggered a drop in the number of South Korean tourists visiting Mount Kumgang and U.S. criticism of the Kaesong Industrial Complex has grown.

Mr. Oh said that when the new complex is running, train tours to Mount Paektu would be the next step. Tourists would travel by ship from Sokcho on South Korea’s east coast to Hoiryong and Musan, two harbors in the Rajin-Sonbong area of North Korea’s far northeast.

North Korea established the Rajin-Sonbong Free Economic and Trade Zone in 1991 on the western side of the Tumen River to attract foreign investment. It has been a near-total failure in attracting foreign investment. Mr. Oh said work on the new project would begin in 2-3 months.

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