Archive for the ‘Maxgro holdings’ Category

South Korea launches reforestation campaign in North

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

Anyone who has spent time visiting North Korea on Google Earth will have noticed the acute shortage of trees.  I am not alone in this observation.  Dr. Lankov recently reported that South Korean tourists to Kaesong also sense this.

Donating trees to the North might sound like a particularly harmless form of aid–all the symbolism of inter-Korean cooperation without the messy politics of monitoring food aid or investment.  But the reality is far more pragmatic:

[H]elping North Korea to plant more trees is one of President Lee’s campaign pledges.

He said the South will send seedlings to the North but no details were given as to whether or when the two Koreas will meet for the forestry project.

The spokesman said when the Kyoto Protocol takes effect, the South can buy the right to emit CO2 from North Korea.(Korea Times)

The South Korean government is not alone in hoping to make money off increasing North Korea’s stock of trees.   Singaporean entrepreneur Richard Savage started a tree farm in the DPRK back in 2002:

Richard Savage kneels in the rich brown earth of a field on the outskirts of Pyongyang and reverentially spreads out the broad, green leaf of a young paulownia tree. The saplings have been in the ground for only a month but already they are a meter high; the first harvest could take place in just five years. Eyes shaded by his black cowboy hat, the Singaporean native gazes down the rows of juvenile trees, each worth thousands of dollars at maturity, with a satisfied grin. The experimental lumber crop has survived the harsh North Korean winter and is flourishing in the loamy soil. “The paulownia loves this,” he says. Glancing at another leafy plant, a new hybrid, he confides, “We’re going to let the Dear Leader name it.” (Time)

UPDATE 2002 (Via Werner Koidl):

The IHT wrote on Oct. 27th, 2006:
“Richard Savage, executive director of Maxgro, a company based in Singapore, is probably one of the most ambitious foreigners in North Korea. He is developing a hardwood plantation on 1,500 hectares, or 3,700 acres, manufactures Snow Pine cigarettes for the local market and is building an eight-story financial center in Pyongyang in a joint venture with the government and other investors.”

Even the North Korean government, though, has noticed that the forests are not as dense as they used to be.  Bradley Martin reported in Bloomberg that Kim Jong il has been pushing a reforestation program for some time:

North Korea’s deforestation program dates back to a 1961 speech by Kim Il Sung. In a mostly mountainous country, he proclaimed, “it is necessary to obtain more land through the remaking of nature.” Not only tidelands but “hills throughout the country and plateaus” should be “brought under the plough,” he said.

“The hills and mountains still had trees, and I never heard of floods,” said Hiroko Saito, a Japanese woman who moved with her Korean husband to North Korea in 1961. Her husband joined one of Kim’s vast mountain work teams in the early 1970s, said Saito, now 66 and back in Japan.

Following Kim’s death in 1994 — just before a flood-linked famine gripped the nation — his son and successor Kim Jong Il continued the sacrifice of forest cover until 2000, when he began encouraging reforestation. But the shift hasn’t reversed the damage, and some analysts warn that another famine, close to the scale of the 1990s disaster that may have killed millions of people, might occur as soon as next year.

The government’s agricultural policies launched a cycle of events that lead to greater and greater numbers of trees being culled.  Clearing the forests contributed to seasonal flooding.  The floods exacerbated the food shortage, and pushed people to adopt coping mechanisms to meet their minimum caloric intake for survival.  These coping mechanisms take a toll on what remains of the forests–which exacerbates the flooding.  Repeat annually. This  cycle of destruction has seemingly frustrated Mr. Kim’s plans to bring back the forests:

“For the past few years, I have been telling you to work hard afforestation and have encouraged you at every opportunity.”

“However, an forestation has not met the criteria of authorities and is not going according to plan.”

What Kim Jong Il is trying to say is that, “The reason afforestation is not working is because of the people’s reckless slash-and-burn cultivation, as well as the inefficiency of officers unable to block it.”

After the food crisis in ’95, people uprooted vines and trees to suffice their underfed diets, as well as cultivating illegal farms for food. Further, to save themselves from freezing to death, people used trees as firewood.(Daily NK)

Spontaneous coping mechanisms aside, efforts at increasing forrest cover might prove more difficult than the government expects.  Even if it resolves the food shortage (which does not seem likely in the near term), it has seemingly lost control of its technocrats who have no problem selling DPRK lumber overseas:

…Oh Moon-hyuk, branch manager of the Ruengra 888 trading company in Yunsa, North Hamkyung Province, was executed after being implicated in the smuggling of timber. The trading company was responsible for the export of timber, and operates under the control of the Party’s accounting bureau. The inside contact stated that because of this incident, North Korean authorities carried out further inspections, leading in October of last year to the dismissal of one official receiving vice-minister pay, and the broadening of the inspections nationwide. (Institute for Far Eastern Studies)

The full articles can be found here:
S. Korea to Help N. Korea Plant More Trees
Korea Times
Kim Yon-se

Kims’ Clear-Cutting of Korean Forests Risks Triggering Famine
Bradley Martin
Hideko Takayama

Cause of Barren Mountains: Imperialism-Natural Disaster-Officers
Daily NK
Han Young Jin

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Bfrief No. 08-2-5-2

Light from the North?
Donald MacIntyre


Light from the North?

Sunday, August 11th, 2002

Donald MacIntyre

Richard Savage kneels in the rich brown earth of a field on the outskirts of Pyongyang and reverentially spreads out the broad, green leaf of a young paulownia tree. The saplings have been in the ground for only a month but already they are a meter high; the first harvest could take place in just five years. Eyes shaded by his black cowboy hat, the Singaporean native gazes down the rows of juvenile trees, each worth thousands of dollars at maturity, with a satisfied grin. The experimental lumber crop has survived the harsh North Korean winter and is flourishing in the loamy soil. “The paulownia loves this,” he says. Glancing at another leafy plant, a new hybrid, he confides, “We’re going to let the Dear Leader name it.”

Hermit state, international pariah, charter member of the “axis of evil”?North Korea is hardly an obvious place for long-term investments like tree farms. The decrepit Stalinist economy depends on international handouts to prevent widespread starvation. The Dear Leader, strongman Kim Jong Il, runs the country like a medieval fief. But Savage is confident that his $23 million, 20,000 hectare Paulownia plantation south of Pyongyang will pay off. His Singapore-based company, Maxgro Holdings, is investing $5 million in North Korea this year, and he even has plans to build a resort there, complete with a 70-room hotel, horseback riding, trout fishing and all-terrain vehicles. “This is a mega-growth area,” he says. “If you don’t move now, you will have missed the boat.”

Whether Savage has boarded the Titanic remains to be seen, but there are increasing signs that North Korea at last may be opening its barbed-wire gates, economically and diplomatically. Last month, the authoritarian leadership increased food prices, set artificially low by the government, by as much as 50 fold, while increasing miners’ and scientists’ salaries by almost as much. Many observers say the reforms, including the elimination of some manufacturing subsidies, signal that Kim is edging toward a market economy instead of perpetuating a system in which North Koreans rely on virtually free handouts from the government.

Just as intriguing is the sudden burst of sunshine out of Pyongyang diplomats, the normally reclusive North Koreans are now clamoring to talk to Seoul, Tokyo and Washington all at once. Senior North Korean government officials are scheduled to travel to Seoul this week for ministerial-level talks, the first such tete-a-tete in nine months. Says Yim Sung Joon, a senior advisor to South Korea’s President Kim Dae Jung: “This is a very important moment for the two Koreas.”

On the agenda: everything from reunions of separated families to rebuilding a railway across the heavily mined dmz dividing North and South. In a surprise move, Pyongyang has already agreed to send athletes to the Pusan Asian Games next month, the first time North Koreans will take part in an international sporting event in the South. Japanese officials head to Pyongyang next week for talks that will include the awkward issue of Japanese nationals allegedly abducted in the 1970s and ’80s, Japan wants them back before the two countries can normalize relations. Meanwhile, North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell for a 15-minute chat on the sidelines of the asean meeting in Brunei two weeks ago, the highest level encounter between the two sides since George W. Bush became President.

Is this the same country whose navy six weeks ago shelled South Korean patrol boats off the west coast of the peninsula, killing five sailors? It is, say observers, who speculate that the naval battle may have been an accidental clash rather than a deliberate provocation. The country’s recent reforms and overtures are, in fact, in keeping with an agenda dating back to the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union unraveled and left its client state, North Korea, without a dependable source of oil and food. The conventional wisdom has been that Kim is too scared of losing control to risk reform. But a devastating famine in the mid-’90s made it clear the country could not go it alone–that it must, to some degree, join the international economic community.

Frequent business visitors to Pyongyang say the North Koreans have been overhauling their investment laws and welcoming international trade delegations in the hope of attracting foreign capital. Government connections are still essential, but there are fewer layers of bureaucracy than in China, say experts on North Korean business practices. Once a joint venture is signed, getting things done is no tougher than in other developing countries. “I find it very refreshing to be here,” says Savage. “The guys are very straight.”

But North Korea’s agricultural output has fallen dramatically and its infrastructure is crumbling. Most of its factories have shut down and its electric power system is in shambles. The country has one of the worst credit ratings in the world and its currency, the won, is not convertible. Building the basic services that might make North Korea alluring to more foreign investors will take billions of dollars in loans from international lenders like the World Bank.

Lending cannot take place without assent from the U.S., and Washington won’t approve until North Korea allows inspections of all its nuclear weapons facilities. The country froze its nuclear program under a 1994 agreement with the U.S., in return receiving oil imports and a commitment–backed by South Korea and Japan–to build two light-water nuclear power plants in North Korea. Ground has been broken for construction of one in the port city of Kumho. But under the agreement, North Korea must allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to assess whether Pyongyang is living up to its promise to come clean on all of its nuclear programs, a process that could take several years. The U.S. and its partners want to begin soon. So far, Kim has refused to allow inspections to resume, and the standoff goes on. Says a Western diplomat: “The North Koreans are going to have to be viewed as extremely clean.”

Nevertheless, a few brave pioneers have set up shop in North Korea in anticipation of better times. Swiss data-processing company has run a joint-venture data-entry center in Pyongyang since 1997. Some South Korean companies have launched joint ventures in areas like animation and computer software. And Chinese traders do a booming business back and forth across the China-North Korea border. Robert Suter, who heads the Seoul office of Swiss power generation company ABB Ltd., says his firm is staking out a position in North Korea, “It is the same as it was in China years ago. You had to be there and you had to build trust.”

The question on many minds is whether Kim Jong Il, who has a history of trading friendly relations and empty promises for monetary assistance, is merely giving the world another head fake. His market reforms, according to skeptics, are designed not to liberalize the economy but to control the informal black markets that burgeoned during the famine, when the government could not feed everybody.

If North Korea is indeed serious about reform, it will begin by rebuilding its decimated manufacturing sector. The country needs to export goods if it is to earn hard currency to pay for the food and fertilizer it cannot produce itself. Cutting off subsidies to deadbeat factories is just a first step, and there is no evidence the government has a blueprint for moving further. “They aren’t scrapping the socialist system,” says Koh Hyun Wook, an expert on North Korea at Kyungnam University near Pusan. “These are makeshift moves to overcome the current economic crisis.”

Savage, the tree farmer, believes otherwise. He will be in North Korea with his Israeli irrigation engineers this week, setting up greenhouses and touching base with his North Korean partners. But he acknowledges his venture will require patience. The country “may be a bit backward,” he concedes, “but so what? If you are prepared to help, it will take off like a bloody bullet.” Or a paulownia tree.


Coming in From the Cold

Thursday, October 25th, 2001

Bertil Lintner
Suh-Kyung Yoon

Pak Ku Po and his companion would not make it in international business circles.  They have no name cards and one of them does not even want to give his name. They claim they know nothing about the place where they are based–“we’re just newcomers here”–but promise to be more forthcoming “the next time we meet.”  Their secretiveness is perhaps understandable as they work for Zokwang Trading, a state-owned North Korean company in Macau, which in the past has been accused of being involved in the distribution of counterfeit money, arms smuggling and terrorist training. North Korea had been accused of state-sponsored terrorism long before Afghanistan decided to give shelter to Osama bin Laden and the seeds of the present conflict in Central Asia were sown.

But now things are supposed to have changed, and Zokwang and other North Korean trading companies–and there are many of them throughout East Asia–claim they are legitimate business operations. Pak, for instance, says that Zokwang is involved mainly in the export of North Korean ginseng to Asian countries, and sweaters and other knitwear to France and Canada. Over the past few years, North Korea has embarked on a vigorous commercial drive across the globe, and, for the first time, it is making serious attempts to attract foreign investment. Is Pyongyang finally turning to capitalism to save the world’s last Stalinist state?

The main question is whether this change in attitude will, in the long run, also change North Korea’s economy and society–as similar initiatives by the Chinese communists in the late 1970s have begun to transform China. Or will more hard currency in the state’s coffers only serve to delay the collapse of one of the world’s most atavistic regimes, thus prolonging the suffering of the North Korean people? And have North Korean businesses overseas really become legitimate? Or are they still peddling fake bank notes, drugs and ballistic-missile technology? This is an important issue going forward because the United States has made it clear it will track down all sources of funding for terrorists in future–and now that other sources are drying up,lesser-known alternatives may come into vogue.

There is little doubt that the sale of ballistic-missile technology in violation of the Missile Technology Control Regime and, more generally, the export of weapons to terrorist organizations and the states that harbour them, is far more lucrative than all of Pyongyang’s legitimate commercial ventures put together. But it is equally true that the international war on terrorism will only make such sales more difficult with every passing day.

Ri To Sop, North Korean consul general at the recently established diplomatic mission in Hong Kong, is firm in his assurances. “Our Dear Leader has told us that this is a new millennium, and that we should not do things in the old way. There will be changes. Just wait and see,” he says. The “Dear Leader,” North Korea’s reclusive supremo, Kim Jong Il, visited China in May this year, where his hosts took him to see the stock exchange in Shanghai. In July, he embarked on a 10-day epic train journey through Siberia to Moscow and St. Petersburg, where he visited sites commemorating the 1917 communist revolution, but also held talks with Russia’s new, born-again capitalist leadership. The trip was hailed by South Korean Foreign Minister Han Seung Soo: “[This is] a very positive development because it is an indication that North Korea is willing to open up.”

The main force behind North Korea’s commercial drive is, perhaps not surprisingly, the country’s powerful military. In June, a North Korean defector described the North Korean People’s Army as the country’s biggest “foreign-exchange earner.” From early spring this year, servicemen have been made to engage in a variety of export-oriented projects including mushroom harvesting, gold mining, medicinal-herb collection and crab fishing.

The ruling Korean Workers’ Party is also reported to be operating more than 40 restaurants in six countries as a means of raising hard currency. The first North Korean eatery opened in Austria as early as in March 1986, but in recent years more have followed in China, Russia and Indonesia. According to South Korean intelligence, North Korea will soon open restaurants also in Bulgaria and Australia.

Even more imaginatively, the Dongkong Foreign Trade Corporation in the Chinese city of Dandong, just across the border from North Korea, acquired in September the exclusive right to sell North Korean medicines in the international market–including a brand called Cheongchun No. 1, which is a home-made North Korean version of Viagra.

In Thailand, a North Korean-owned company, Wolmyongsan Progress Joint Venture, has for years been engaged in mining activities near the Burmese border in Kanchanaburi, west of Bangkok, while Kosun Import-Export, which is based in the Thai capital itself, is permitted to trade in rice, rubber, paper, tapioca and clothing.  Kosun is located in a discreet office on the top floor of an eight-storey building in a Bangkok suburb. The company is also involved in property, apparently owning the building and renting out flats and office space.

At first glance, it seems that North Korea’s dive into the world of capitalism is paying off. North Korea does not release any trade or economic figures, but according to data collected by South Korea’s state-run Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, or Kotra, from the North’s main trading partners–China, Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong–its external trade in 2000 jumped by 33.1% to $1.96 billion from a year earlier.  It was the second straight year that North Korea saw its trade volume expand and that, too, at a much higher rate than the modest 2.6% increase in 1999.

Kotra is now actively promoting more trade with North Korea. In April this year, the agency published a fact book on how to do business in the Stalinist state, complete with useful phone numbers in Pyongyang and the complete text, in English, of all new laws relating to foreign trade and investment. South Korea’s interest in the development of the impoverished north is understandable. Since South Korean President Kim Dae Jung undertook his historic journey to Pyongyang in June last year, the question of a reunification of the Korean peninsula has become much more urgent–and the South Koreans are painfully aware of the wide income gap between the North and the South.

“Unless we help North Korea develop and strengthen its economy, both countries would collapse if they were reunited,” says a South Korean diplomat on condition of anonymity. “The South would not be able to take care of the North. The gap is just too wide today.” The cost of reunification was first discussed in South Korea shortly after East and West Germany–at a tremendous price–became one country in 1990. According to Marcus Noland, a researcher at the Institute for International Economics, Washington, South Korea would have to invest as much as $3.17 trillion in order to avoid an abrupt influx of people to the South and to upgrade living standards in the North–significantly more than West Germany had to pay to raise living standards in East Germany to an acceptable level.

A closer look at Kotra’s upbeat trade figures for North Korea also reveals a somewhat less rosy picture. In 2000, North Korea exported $556 million worth of machinery and chemical goods–while importing $1.4 billion worth of food, computers and vehicles. The North’s perennial trade deficit is expected to worsen this year as the country has to increase imports of rice, corn and other grains. According to the Bank of Korea, North Korea’s foreign debt totals $12.3 billion and Pyongyang’s credit rating is the lowest in the world.

There is no doubt that it is the dire straits that North Korea has found itself in which have forced its government to resort to commerce, not any real change of mind in the inviolability of the country’s austere socialist system. According to a study by Heather Smith and Yiping Huang of the Australian National University, the present food crisis in North Korea was caused by the disruption in trading ties with former communist allies in the late 1980s. The former Soviet Union ceased providing aid in 1987. More devastatingly, they emphasize, both the former Soviet Union in 1990 and China in 1993 demanded that North Korea pay standard international prices for goods, and that it pay in hard currency rather than through barter trade, as previously had been the case. This affected petroleum imports to the degree that they declined from 506,000 tonnes in 1989 to 30,000 tonnes in 1992.

Subsequently, North Korea embarked on its overseas capitalist ventures. According to a Western diplomat who follows developments in North Korea, the country’s embassies abroad were mobilized to raise badly needed foreign exchange. This, he says, was done partly in the name of the diplomats themselves, or through locally established trading companies, which in reality are offshoots of bigger, Pyongyang-based state trading corporations. “Not only do the embassies have to be self-sufficient, they are also expected to send money back to the government in Pyongyang,” the diplomat says. “How they raise money is immaterial. It can be by legal or illegal means. And it’s often done by abusing diplomatic privileges.”

The sad truth is that the North Koreans are desperate and prepared to do anything to make money, and Bangkok seems to be emerging as a centre for many of their activities. Western intelligence officials based in the Thai capital are aware of the import and sale of luxury cars, which are brought in duty-free by North Korean diplomats. Another way of raising money is to insure a cargo consignment at a disproportionate level, and then report the goods lost. “This is usually done through international insurance markets, and there is little the companies can do but to pay up,” the diplomat says.

And earlier this year, fake $100 notes turned up in Bangkok. The police believed that the North Korean embassy was responsible as some of its diplomats were caught trying to deposit the forgeries in local banks. The North Korean diplomats were warned not to try it again. In a more novel enterprise, the North Koreans in Bangkok were reported to be buying second-hand mobile phones–and sending them in diplomatic pouches to Bangladesh, where they were resold to customers who cannot afford new ones.

And even where businesses tend to be more legitimate, North Korea has managed to attract some rather unusual investors. As early as 1991, the North Koreans established a “free economic and trade zone” in Rajin-Sonbong along the Tumen River near the border with China and Russia. Some 746 square kilometres were set aside for “foreign capitalists”–but there have been very few takers apart from pro-Pyongyang ethnic Koreans from Japan, who have invested because of patriotic duty rather than any expectations of quick returns. In fact, there is only one major foreign investor in the entire zone: Hong Kong entrepreneur Albert Yeung Sau Shing, who controls the Emperor Group, which has interests in gold, securities, property and entertainment in Hong Kong and China as well as a banking venture in Cambodia.

In October 1999, Yeung opened the $180 million Seaview Casino Hotel in Rajin-Sonbong. Although locals are banned from entering the establishment, the Emperor Group is betting that wealthy Chinese and Russians will come there to gamble. The casino has 52 slot machines and 16 gaming tables offering everything from blackjack and baccarat to roulette. In Hong Kong, Yeung is best remembered for his acquittal at his dramatic trial for criminal intimidation in 1995 when all five witnesses called by the prosecution testified that they did not remember anything. Yeung was accused of having kept a former employee prisoner after threatening to break his leg. Even the victim himself said he could not remember what had happened.

In the same year, Macau gambling tycoon Stanley Ho also opened a casino in North Korea, but in the capital itself. Ho’s $30 million Casino Pyongyang is located in the Yanggakdo Hotel, where his partner is Macau businessman Wong Sing-wa. His company, the Talented Dragon Investment Firm, in 1990 became Pyongyang’s unofficial consulate in Macau with authority to issue North Korean visas.

Wong, who has interests in several Macau casinos, made headlines in early 1998, when a Lisbon-based weekly newspaper, the Independent, protested over his presence in a delegation from Macau that was being received by the Portuguese president. The paper cited a Macau official as saying that Wong had “no criminal record, but we have registered information that links him to organized crime” in Macau.

With such business partners, it is obvious that the North Koreans have a long way to go before they acquire a better understanding of how capitalism really works. Nor has North Korea, despite its efforts, managed to attract a large number of new investors.  In July this year, a delegation of representatives from 17 Hong Kong companies went to North Korea on a trip initiated by the new consulate in the special administrative region. But though they showed some interest, no commitments were made.

In October, the Singapore Confederation of Industry sent a 25-member delegation to North Korea to look into business opportunities, but little investment is expected from there as well. In recent years, only one Singapore company, Maxgro Holdings, has concluded a joint-venture agreement with North Korea. Maxgro intends to plant 80 million paulownia trees on 20,000 hectares of state-owned land and the project is meant to produce wood for furniture, veneers and musical instruments. But at a value of only $23 million, it is hardly going to turn things around in North Korea.

And, as the fake dollars in circulation in Bangkok show, old habits die hard. In fact, North Korea’s main export item remains ballistic-missile technology. There are especially two North Korean companies that have attracted the attention of Western diplomats: the Changgwang Sinyong Corporation and the Lyongaksan General Trading Company.

In the 1990s, Changgwang was sanctioned by the U.S. government for exporting ballistic-missile technology to Pakistan. In July this year, Changgwang was once again sanctioned by Washington, this time for providing Iran with the same technology. According to Western diplomats, Lyongaksan, which like Changgwang is controlled by the North Korean military, sends people under commercial cover to countries such as Syria and Libya, where they in reality sell weapons systems. According to a report which the Seoul-based Korean Institute for Defence Analyses released in April, North Korea has exported at least 540 missiles to Libya, Iraq and other Middle East countries since 1985.

Libya recently bought 50 Rodong-1 missiles with a range of 1,000 kilometres. Cash-starved North Korea has not hesitated to sell weapons to whoever wants to buy them, including terrorist groups. A video of an attack last year by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on a Sri Lankan navy vessel shows speedboats which appeared to be of North Korean origin. The rebels also appeared to be using a North Korean variant of the Russian 107 millimetre Katysha rocket launcher. And in late 1990, North Korea sold Burma 20 million rounds of 7.62 millimetre rifle ammunition, which intelligence sources say ended up in the hands of the United Wa State Army, a drug-trafficking group which is active in the Burmese sector of the golden triangle.

While the world is focusing on the terrorist threat from Afghanistan, North Korea’s potential for mischief has been almost overlooked. But in testimony on April 17 this year, Deputy CIA Director John E. McLaughlin warned: “North Korea’s challenge to regional and global security is magnified by two . . . factors . . . first the North’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, and its readiness–and eagerness–to become missile salesman to the world. And second, the economic and humanitarian disaster that has afflicted the people of the North–a catastrophe whose effects will endure for generations, no matter how the Korean situation finally plays out.”

Unlike North Korea’s more mainstream trading companies, its sale of ballistic-missile technology and military hardware raises millions of dollars, which–minus commissions for the North Korean “businessmen” in the field–flow back into Pyongyang’s coffers. “There is no evidence to suggest that this money is used to put food upon the tables of North Korea’s starving people,” quips a Western diplomat.

North Korea, which depends on international aid to feed its people, has imported $340 million worth of military hardware over the past decade, according to South Korean security officials. This may be less in absolute terms than what South Korea spends on its military. But the much-poorer North spends 14.3% of the country’s GDP on its military compared to the 3.1% spent by the South.

So, for the time being, missiles rather than mushrooms make up the backbone of the North Korea’s exports. If some capitalist seeds have been sown during the present drive to shore up the economy, it will take some time for a new business mentality to emerge. Kim Jong Il, it seems, is not yet about to become another Deng Xiaoping.  But in a world ever more concerned with the spread of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, states that are known, or suspected, to possess them will find themselves facing intense scrutiny–if not outright isolation. North Korea, thus, has very good reason to come in from the cold.