An influential official from North Korea left for China on Monday to discuss building joint industrial complexes on their borders, the North’s state-run Korean Central News
The official, Jang Song-thaek, who is an uncle of the country’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, and is widely seen as a key policy adviser, was leading a North Korean delegation to discuss the joint development and management of the Rason and Hwanggumphyong economic zones, it said.
The North Korean report provided no other details.
Jang’s trip came amid news reports that Kim was attempting reforms to revitalise his country’s moribund economy. South Korean news media, citing unidentified sources within the North, have reported in recent weeks that the programme includes depriving the North Korean military of its lucrative trading rights and allowing farmers to keep 30 percent of their annual yield as an incentive to encourage their productivity.
Jang, 66, is widely seen by South Korean analysts as a mastermind behind Kim’s recent attempts to tame the military, including the abrupt dismissal of the army chief, Marshal Ri Yong-ho, in July, and as a man designated by Kim to help revive the economy.
In June last year, he led the North Korean delegation to the groundbreaking ceremony in Hwanggumphyong, at the northwestern tip of North Korea, where the North is trying to build an industrial complex with China.
North Korea also opened a free-trade zone in Rason, at its northeastern corner, in the 1990s. But its efforts to attract outside investors there have made little progress because of poor infrastructure and the political uncertainty created by the country’s nuclear and missile programmes.
North Korea and South Korea jointly run an industrial complex in Gaeseong, in southwestern North Korea, where the North provides cheap labour for South Korean factories. But the South’s plans to expand the zone remain suspended amid tensions created by the North’s recent military provocations.
With international sanctions tightened, the North’s dependence on China, its ally during the cold war, for trade and investment has deepened in recent years.