Media Report: North Korea Enlists German Help to Prepare Economic Opening

Pyongyang may be preparing to open up its economy. A report in a prominent newspaper claims the regime has enlisted the aid of German economic and legal experts to lay the groundwork for foreign investment in North Korean companies. The move could be made as soon as this year.

Kim Jong Un could be preparing to open up his country's economy. Zoom
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Kim Jong Un could be preparing to open up his country's economy.

On New Year's Day, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for a "radical" economic renewal for his country and an end to decades of conflict with South Korea. Now, a German media report says he is moving quickly to fulfill at least the first pledge.

According to an article to be published on Saturday by the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the communist regime in Pyongyang is preparing to open up the country's economy to foreign investors. Moreover, it has enlisted the assistance of German economists and lawyers to lay the groundwork for the move.

"There is a master plan," one of the economists involved in the plan told the paper. "They want to open up this year." The FAZ did not identify the economist, but noted that he works at a respected German university and that he had advised other governments in Asia in the past.

The economist told the paper that the country is primarily interested in modernizing its laws relating to foreign investment. However, North Korea is not intending to follow the Chinese model, which called for the creation of special economic zones for foreign investors, the economist told the FAZ. "Rather, they are interested in the Vietnamese model, in which specific companies were chosen as recipients of investments," the source said.

Signs of Change

Such a move would be revolutionionary for North Korea , which has long been largely cut off from the rest of the world by virtue of its heavy-handed regime. The country's economy is in a shambles as a result. But since Kim Jong Un took over from his late father just over a year ago, there have been signs of change.

His New Year's address was the most obvious indication that he is prepared to embark on a path different from the one followed by his father, Kim Jong Il. Indeed, even holding such an address was a departure; it marked the first such speech by a North Korean leader since Kim Il Sung held the last one in 1994.

Furthermore, Kim was surprisingly open about the poor economic situation in which his country finds itself. He pledged renewal, indicating that it would largely be dependent on continued technological advancement. He also highlighted last month'srocket launch, saying it was a boost for "national self-esteem."

Still, even as the FAZ reports that there are many in the country's leadership who are in favor of opening up the country to investments from Japanese, South Korean and Western companies, the professor the paper cites notes that it is far from a done deal.

"The military in North Korea," he told the paper, "will not want to give up power." He added that it is by no means clear whether Kim's reform efforts will be able to overcome military resistance.

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