North Korea gets Chinese economic support

Wed, Aug 15, 2012, 01:00

CHINA HAS promised to help major companies invest in special economic zones in its impoverished neighbour North Korea, in a clear signal of support for the North’s untried young leader Kim Jong-un, who is believed to be planning reforms to his country’s teetering economy.

Vice-commerce minister Chen Jian wrote in the Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily that priority would be given to two special economic zones set up by China and North Korea just over a year ago, situated in Rason and the Hwanggumphyong and Wihwa Islands.

“We will support big Chinese companies who are willing to invest in North Korea to broaden the economic and trade co-operation with North Korea, to push the two sides to upgrade two-way trade and investment structures and study the feasibility of co-operation on big projects,” Mr Chen wrote.

The move is a rare outing for isolated Pyongyang into international commerce. The country has been subject to sanctions by the international community over its nuclear weapons programme.

Beijing has also signed up to the embargoes, but food and energy aid from China is key to propping up the economy in the North.

The pledge comes as Mr Kim’s powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek was in Beijing to discuss economic co-operation with North Korea’s most important ally.

Mr Jang is married to late leader Kim Jong-il’s sister, Kim Kyong Hui, and as head of the central administrative department of the Korean Workers’ Party, one of North Korea’s top economic policy cadres.

Mr Jang met China’s minister of commerce, Chen Daming.

“Both sides reached the consensus that the co-operation in developing the two economic zones has yielded impressive results and entered the stage of substantial development,” the Chinese commerce ministry said in a statement.

There have been indications that Mr Kim is trying to reform the isolated North Korean economy. China, which was the North’s ally in the Korean War (1950-53) and which has an ideological closeness to Pyongyang, would provide a useful model for reform.