DPRK investment seminars

Back in March 2011, KCNA posted this video clip to their web page:

Unfortunately for the North Koreans, actions speak louder than words.

The North Koreans appear to be worried that the unwanted attention brought about by the Xiyang story will have a negative effect on investment in the country’s special economic zones along the Chinese border. In order to combat these growing negative perceptions among Chinese investors, the North Koreans have begun holding a series of invitation-only seminars to tout the benefits of investing in Hwanggumphyong and Rason.

Here is coverage of the seminar in the Global Times (PRC) of the most recent seminar:

The officials told Chinese investors attending a seminar in Beijing that North Korea will allow the Chinese yuan to be used in business transactions, offer tax incentives to targeted industries and ease visa requirements.

North Korea is hoping to spur development of the Hwanggumpyong and the Wihwa Islands, two special economic zones on the Yalu River, which also runs through the Chinese border city of Dandong, Liaoning Province, reported the Beijing News. Favorable policies regarding the Rason Economic Trade Zone, which is closer to Jilin Province, were also discussed.

A North Korean official told the seminar that his country hopes to transform the economic zones into “world-class business districts.”

More than 200 Chinese companies, including State-owned enterprises and private corporations, participated in the seminar.

China’s Vice-Minister of Commerce Chen Jian said cooperation between China and North Korea on the development of the new economic zones is going smoothly.

Despite the enthusiasm from officials on both sides, entrepreneurs expressed concern over the veracity of the country’s legal framework needed to protect their investment.

“North Korea has significant iron ore and coal reserves, but I wouldn’t rush to invest unless I am sure it can be protected by their law,” a Chinese mining entrepreneur who requested anonymity told the Global Times.

The Daily NK provides additional details:

What the People’s Daily article did do was make clear how the two sides foresee the function of the SEZ areas. Rasun, it said, “will focus on the development of raw materials, equipment, high tech products, light industry, the service sector and modern agriculture.” Conversely, Hwanggeumpyong and Wihwa Island “will focus on the development of information industries, tourism, modern agriculture and garment manufacturing.”

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce has also moved to back efforts to stimulate interest in the SEZs.

The Hankyoreh offers some additional details on this and previous seminars:

Cars pulled up one after another on Sept. 26 in front of the Bridge Art Center in downtown Beijing, where a big blue sign read “Introduction to the Choson (North Korea) investment environment and counseling on investment areas.” The Chinese corporate executives who stepped out of the vehicles filed into the venue for a briefing on investment in North Korea.

The North Korean Committee for the Promotion of Economic Cooperation and China’s private GBD Public Diplomacy and Culture Exchange Center staged the event over two days in the hope of attracting investment by introducing “promising investment areas” for Chinese entrepreneurs.

The event was invite-only. Attendees walked around the venue, where they were asked not to take pictures. A screen at the front of the conference room displayed videos on the Rason and Hwanggumpyong special economic zones and the tax breaks available to investors. Around 100 Chinese businesspeople sat in their chairs to watch.

At the entrance was a list of around thirty participating North Korean businesses. Many were in areas such as natural resource development (iron and gold mining), seafood farming, and garments. Trade companies also stood out on the list, including the Daesong General Trading Corporation and the Jangsu Trading Company. Thirty-six officials from state-run North Korean businesses provided information about 43 investment projects. The afternoon saw one-on-one talks between North Korean officials and Chinese executives.

A senior official with GBD said hundreds of Chinese businesses would be participating on Sept. 26 and 27.

“There are quite a lot of Chinese businesses interested in investing in North Korea,” the official said.

On the invitations, the organizers touted the investment briefing as an “important opportunity for Chinese businesses to invest in North Korea.”

“Choson’s new leader Kim Jong-un declared that economic development and improving people’s livelihoods are important goals of the Workers’ Party of Korea,” they read.

This is just one of many such briefings that North Korea has organized all over China. On Sept. 7, a counseling session was held in Changchun, Jilin province, for “North Korea Day and China-Choson trade investment projects.” Another investment briefing on Sept. 9 was staged concurrently with the 16th China International Fair for Investment and Trade in Xiamen, Fujian province. A joint China-North Korea economic trade briefing on Oct. 14 in Dandong, Liaoning province, is scheduled to include counseling sessions for the three areas of trade, investment, and labor between 60 North Korean national trade company officials and 100 Chinese businesspeople.

Meanwhile, the Chosun Investment Office of Joint Venture and Investment Committee, North Korea’s body for attracting foreign investment, signed a contract in Beijing on Sept. 22 with China Overseas Investment to set up an exclusive North Korea investment fund of 3 billion RMB, or about US$476 million.

China’s private investors have shown much interest amid signs of change from Pyongyang, but sources said this had not yet led to actual investments.

“In staging investment briefings, North Korea is showing that it has decided on a course of change for the sake of the economy and the public welfare,” said a source in Beijing.

“In China, people have kept asking for Pyongyang to establish more laws and regulations to allay the fears of businesses investing there, so it’s going to take some time to see the kind of investment North Korean really needs for its own economic development beyond things like mining,” the source added.

Reuters also seems to have been invited:

But after listening to a presentation from Chinese and North Korean officials at one of Beijing’s most expensive hotels laying out the supposed allure of the two zones, the head of one company gave an emphatic “no” when asked if she was convinced.

“We’re not thinking about it at the moment,” said Li Guilian, chairwoman of Dalian-based clothing company Dayang Trands. “We might go and have a look at Hwanggumphyong, but I don’t think we’ll invest.”

She nodded her head vigorously when asked if she thought it was risky investing in such an isolated and backward country.

“Investors need first of all to consider the environment. If there’s a problem with the environment, then there’s no way people are going to commit money,” Li told Reuters.

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