From one problematic, oppressive but strategically key Asian economy to another.
When funds guru Jim Rogers called Burma the best investment opportunity in the world, he pointedly added: “… with North Korea not far behind” and said he was extremely bullish on the secretive state’s future, while acknowledging there was no way for him to invest there.
Recent dispatches from North Korea, which have shown the communist state’s new leader Kim Jong-un posing with his young wife, riding on a roller coaster, and paring back the military’s influence, have prompted speculation that North Korea might be about to embark on a Burma-style reform programme.
This is unlikely, but the prospects of North Korea taking an approach similar to China, and following the path of a socialist market economy – it’s not so long since these concepts were polar opposites – are looking possible.
During a visit by senior Chinese leaders to Pyongyang last week, Kim gave the strongest indications yet that economic reforms could be in the offing.
“Developing the economy and improving livelihoods, so that the Korean people lead happy and civilised lives, is the goal the Korean Workers’ Party is struggling towards,” he told leading Chinese Communist Party cadre Wang Jiarui, the Xinhua news agency reported.
One of the poorest countries in the world, North Korea has been locked in dire poverty for decades since the Soviet Union collapsed, and is reliant on aid from China to keep the economy going.
It has had to deal with famines and international sanctions, but has made no friends by insisting on developing a nuclear weapons programme, jangling nerves in the region, especially in neighbouring South Korea, with which it remains technically at war since a ceasefire ended the Korean War in 1953.
Kim, who is believed to be in his twenties, took over the reins of the world’s only communist dynasty in December.
The north’s economic woes have intensified in the last few weeks after heavy rain and widespread flooding left nearly 120 people dead, damaging some 46,000 hectares of crops, around 2 per cent of the North’s arable land.
The most likely scenario is that any reforms will follow the Chinese model. Kim has visited China many times, including some high-profile visits to the industrial zones of Shenzhen in the last days of his late father Kim Jong-il’s rule.
He underlined the tight links to China, saying how it was “the unswerving will of the North Korean party and government to continue Comrade Kim Jong-il’s teachings of constantly deepening the traditional friendship between North Korea and China across the generations”.
And in a sign that he is keen to learn from other nearby countries which have communist governments that have adopted market-style reforms, Kim has sent his head of parliament, Kim Yong-nam, to Vietnam and Laos, according to the North Korean KCNA news agency.