Economists who fled North Korea on the significance of special economic zones

South Korea’s blueprint for railroad links through North Korea to China and Russia falls well short of Kim Jong Un’s vision for developing his impoverished nation, according to a defector who provides economic research to the government in Seoul.

Defector Kim Byeong-uk, 55, teaches North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul and runs a small private economic research firm. Kim’s research firm interviews defectors to gather information about facilities ranging from factories to schools and hospitals. Kim said: “What South Korea wants is to connect the Korean Peninsula to reach out directly to Russia and China, but what the North primarily wants is to shore up its own economy by bringing in more money from overseas to its special economic zones.”

Kim Jong Un has increased the number of special economic zones more than fivefold to 27 since succeeding his father as North Korea’s leader in 2011. While the regime in Pyongyang has focused on military and nuclear deterrence to ensure its survival, the time may have arrived for boosting the economy.

Kim’s wife, Kim Young-hui, who is a specialist on the North at the Korea Development Bank in Seoul, concurs with his view that most of economic zones in the North remain severely underdeveloped. “North Korea is dying to see an inflow of multinational and U.S. companies to its economic zones,” she said. “If Americans go to North Korea and start living there, then there’s virtually no chance that the U.S. would attack it or start lobbing bombs there. What could be a better security guarantee than having U.S. citizens in the country?”

She and her husband made their way to Mongolia before defecting to South Korea with their two sons.

[The Japan Times]

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