N. Korea Eager for Economic Modernization

Korea Times
Jung Sung-ki
10/29/2007

North Korea has a keen interest in economic modernization program aimed at luring foreign investment through business cooperation projects with other countries, a member of the European Parliament said Monday.

In a press conference in Seoul, Hubert Pirker, an Austrian member of the European Parliament, said the North clearly understands the fact that without economic modernization, it will not be able to attract foreign investment into the country.

Pirker and two other EU representatives _ Jas Gawronsky of Italy and Glyn Ford of Britain _ visited North Korea from Oct. 20-27 and met the North’s Prime Minister Kim Yong-il. They also held an economic forum with North Korean officials.

During the forum, North Koreans’ attitudes “were not closed or hostile,” said Pirker.

“We visited the railway station, for example, and also parks and restaurants. I could say we could see more modern-style restaurants and more cars than ever before,” the European lawmaker was quoted by Yonhap News Agency as saying.

The European lawmakers discussed ways of modernizing North Korea’s agriculture, light industry, information technology and finance sectors with officials there, Pirker said.

North Korea’s Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun expressed his wish to visit Europe next year, as Pyongyang seeks to send its young officials and industrial trainees there to learn information technology and other advanced knowledge from European nations, he said.

Pirker said the delegates had advised the North Koreans that upgrading the level of communications and finance systems in the North to global standards was essential to securing foreign investments in a stable manner.

Progress at the six-party talks aimed at scrapping Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program and expanding inter-Korea economic cooperation would help the North achieve its goal of inviting foreign capital, the legislator added.

The European Union has so far sent about 50 million euros worth of aid to North Korea, he said.

The impoverished North has recently shown strong interest in the economic reform programs of other countries.

Reports said North Korean leader Kim Jong-il expressed intentions last week copying Vietanam’s economic reform and openness policy, called “Doi Moi,” during a meeting with Nong Duc Manh, the secretary-general of the Vietnamese Communist Party, in Pyongyang.

The ongoing visit to Hanoi by the North Korean premier appears to have something to do with Kim’s remarks, they said. The reclusive leader is reportedly planning to visit Vietnam in the near future.

North Korean officials expressed firm commitment to denuclearization under the Feb. 13 nuclear deal, according to Pirker.

Under the pact signed by the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, Pyongyang pledged to disable its nuclear facilities and declare all of its nuclear programs by the end of this year in return for economic assistance and political concessions.

North Korea has received 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil from South Korea and an equal amount from China for closing five of its nuclear facilities in July. The regime is to receive an additional 900,000 tons of oil or equivalent energy aid if it goes through the second stage of denuclearization.

The EU delegates are scheduled to pay a courtesy call on Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and hold meetings with South Korean business leaders including Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo before leaving South Korea on Nov. 2.

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