While you were (not) watching North Korea: Business is booming (updated)

Recently, the DPRK was forced to set a limit on foreign tourists coming to the country. The number has jumped to about 100,000 a year and the country’s facilities are struggling to cope. When I first visited in 2015, there were perhaps 20,000 Chinese tourists a year and 5,000 non-Chinese tourists. Now the total number has jumped to 100,000. Our visit in October of 2018 verified this rise, for more and more hotels were catering for travellers.

Alongside the tourists are an increasing number of foriegn investors, most of them Chinese. Business is booming north of the DMZ. As a recent article in the Global Times indicates, the DPRK is actively seeking further investment. The article is careful to point out that the lawyers’ group touring China is anticipating the lifting of sanctions, but the reality is that some investment is already taking place.

Earlier, I copied the initial article about the team of Korean lawyers touring China, but I have now replaced it with this follow-up, called ‘Chinese entrepreneurs eye new opportunities in N. Korea economy’:

With North Korea stabilizing its economy and giving development a high priority, Chinese companies and entrepreneurs have been actively but cautiously exploring more investment opportunities in the North Korean market.

They are more inspired as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was on Monday reported to have visited the renovated and expanded Taesong Department Store in Pyongyang, which is seen as a positive sign for the country to further develop its economy.

According to nkews.com, Kim said the new “modern department store” would provide Pyongyang residents with “fine quality” goods including groceries, clothing, shoes, housewares and stationery. He was also reported to have said that the shop will “sufficiently produce and sell quality daily necessities and mass consumer goods for the convenience of the people,” the report said.

Lü Chao, a research fellow at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday that the move could inspire many Chinese companies, since it could be seen as a sign of North Korea’s willingness to import more daily necessities as it strives to improve its residents’ living standards.

Li Guang, foreign trade manager of Hot Tex Woolen Co, a fabric supplier in East China’s Jiangsu Province, told the Global Times on Monday that North Korea has huge demand for textiles, and the move is a positive signal for companies like his that always want to ship more products to the country. “But since uncertainties remain, our export volumes are limited,” Li said. Li’s company exported fabrics worth $20,000 to North Korea last year.

Li said he’s also planning to attend the Pyongyang International Trade Fair to assess the situation and look for more opportunities in the country. North Korea offers “an ocean of opportunities,” said Li.

Apart from export opportunities, Chinese investors have also shown increasing interest in the market by taking trips to North Korea to get “a full understanding of the investment environment of the country,” an insider told the Global Times on Monday.

The insider noted that most investors still have a “wait-and-see attitude” since UN sanctions have not been lifted yet, but “they expressed willingness to invest in the country.”

The willingness is also bilateral. “Local authorities in North Korea also provided foreign investors with much convenience and they particularly welcome Chinese investors,” the insider said.

In a move to attract Chinese investors, a North Korea-based law firm visited China on April 1 to introduce its foreign investment laws and policies, and it promised to protect the rights of foreign investors in accordance with the laws.

Lü said that as neighboring countries, China and North Korea also enjoy certain advantages on business cooperation given their sound bilateral ties, well-established cooperation foundation and convenient transportation.

“There are many sectors where Chinese investors could invest, such as electricity and transportation,” said Lü, adding that bilateral trade will also gradually increase as tensions on the peninsula ease.

“Until then, China will continue to adhere to the UN sections, as it does now,” Lü added.

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