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North Korea Taps a Chinese Capitalist

Economics: Tycoon will run nonsocialist region as experiment in insular Communist nation.

September 24, 2002|From Times Wire Services

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea has selected a Chinese tycoon to run its new experiment in capitalism--a walled-off region designed to draw foreign investment to the insular Communist nation.

Yang Bin, 39, an orchid exporter and property developer named by Forbes magazine as China's second-richest person, said Monday that the 50-square-mile zone near the country's northwestern coast would be free of the staunch ideology that has been North Korea's hallmark for half a century.

"The special zone is totally capitalist. It is separated from the socialism," said Yang, speaking in Mandarin at a news conference in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital.

He said his appointment as chief executive of the Sinuiju Special Administrative Region by North Korean leaders "shows their willingness to be involved in the international community and international politics."

The presidium of North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly issued a decree Sept. 12 setting up the region.

The presidium pledged to keep its legal system unchanged for 50 years and allow its administration to issue passports and appoint the chief prosecutor.

Sinuiju is the nation's main gateway to China--North Korea's last major ally and trade partner. It has often been cited as a candidate for a free-trade zone.

Yang said the government intends to remove the zone's 200,000 residents and replace them over the next few years with 500,000 new inhabitants with proven technical and administrative skills--North Koreans from elsewhere as well as foreigners.

He also said North Korea was committed to not interfering in Sinuiju, which will use Chinese yuan or U.S. dollars as currency and Korean, Chinese and English as official languages.

He said a wall will separate the region from the rest of the country. A major port also will be constructed, he said.

Yang also said Pyongyang wants to recruit a legislative council of 15 people, half from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Europe--and the U.S., even though President Bush has dubbed North Korea part of an "axis of evil."

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