Excited about '90s-era graphics and sparkly maps? Well, then the North Korean government's new ad for its "peculiar economic development zones" — their translation — is for you.
The video, picked up by NK News's Leo Byrne, is aimed at attracting foreign investment in North Korea. The nominally communist country touts low tax rates for foreign businesses in so-called "special economic zones," specifically designated areas around the country with economic rules tailored to attract foreign businesses. The video touts both the business-friendly rules in these zones and, in some cases, their environmental bona fides: "using green products produced under unpolluted ecological circumstances is an earnest wish of all people on the Earth," the video explains, as soothing music plays in the background.
It's a bizarre video. But it's also a little window into North Korea's economic problems.
As you probably know, North Korea is poor. So poor, in fact, that you can see the difference between it and South Korea from space. North Korea has been pushing special economic zones since 1991 as means of bringing in hard currency. A number of South Korean firms, for example, already operate at an industrial complex in North Korea's Kaesong. But the video comes during a new drive, reported in early May, to promote 24 such economic zones. According to UPI, some South Korean experts believe Kim Jong Un is hoping to learn some lessons from South Korea's own economic development.
There are obviously many barriers to foreign companies operating in North Korea, such as international economic sanctions and the bad PR it would bring. But there are others, such as its terrible electrical grid: companies don't want to build in a place where they can't guarantee their buildings are powered. These new zones give particularly friendly terms for infrastructure investments, so it's possible the goal here is to create a virtuous cycle: get more foreign money for electrical and other infrastructure, which then makes North Korea a more attractive investment down the line.
Or it could be an attempt to arrest the decline of its old, decrepit infrastructure. "If the incentives offered [for foreign investment] seem to have increased over time, it might say something about infrastructure declines getting worse," David Von Hippel, an expert on North Korea's energy sector at the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability, told NK News's Byrne.
It's hard to say what's actually happening in North Korea given the paucity of information about the country. But it's definitely the case that North Korea is looking for more foreign money — and that this shady video is part of its big pitch to the world.