North Korea

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un visits factories near Chinese border as leader’s focus switches to economy

Despot scolds officials and workers involved in a project of industrial upgrading and modernisation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 8:34pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 11:23pm

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un recently visited factories in a region close to the nation’s border with China, state media reported, as a Chinese official said he was keen to resume economic ties with the restive state.

Kim made “field guidance” visits to construction sites, factories and a holiday camp in the North Korean border province of Hamgyong-bukto, the Korean Central News Agency reported on Tuesday. It did not say when he made the visits, but the report came a day after Wang Enbin, deputy director of the department of commerce in Liaoning province, said he was keen for the two countries to work together as soon as possible.

At a factory under the Ranam Coal Mining Machine Complex, Kim scolded officials and workers involved in a project of industrial upgrading and modernisation.

“Labourers and technicians must cooperate creatively to expand the productivity and realise the modernisation of machinery products,” he was quoted as saying.

He said also that it “doesn’t make sense” that the project had still not been completed 17 years after its start, the KCNA report said.

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So Byung-hoon, a South Korean lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, said that while the world’s spotlight was on the denuclearisation issue, Kim was keen to show that he also had his eye on the nation’s economy.

“[He] may want to show to his people that in addition to focusing on negotiations with the US, the regime is also putting an emphasis on economic development,” he said.

Boo Seung-chan, a research fellow at the Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul, agreed.

“For the past few months Kim has been focused on diplomacy to ease the UN sanctions. Now, as that has borne some fruit, he is focusing back on the economy.”

Wang on Monday called for “preparations” to be made to restart economic cooperation with North Korea.

“It is necessary to make some preparations internally so that the cooperation may be swiftly restarted once the UN sanction regimes are eased or lifted,” Japan’s Kyodo News quoted him as saying.

He said also that the sanctions imposed against North Korea had had a detrimental effect on Liaoning’s economy.

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Once a centre for Chinese industry, the province has seen its fortunes fade in recent years and has been battling to shore up its economy and prevent a population exodus. Although it achieved 4.2 per cent economic growth in 2017, it ranked just 28th of 31 Chinese provinces for the year.

Wang said that he hoped Liaoning and North Korea could cooperate in the areas of mining, tourism and trade.

A series of cooperation projects between China and North Korea, including an economic development zone planned for Hwanggumpyong Island on the Yalu River – which forms part of the border between the two countries – has been suspended because of UN sanctions.

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In addition to visiting the border region, Kim was quoted as saying earlier that he would approve the release of a large number of prisoners next month to mark the nation’s 70th anniversary.

Pyongyang has a tradition of conducting amnesties on national holidays such as Foundation Day on September 9 and on the anniversary of the birth of the country’s founding father, and the present leader’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung on April 15.

“Amnesty is a political act aimed at domestic audiences. Although power is concentrated on Kim, there are still cabinets, party, power elites within the North Korean society that may influence the decision-making processes,” Boo said.