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Kim visits factory bordering China, arousing investment expectation

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This undated picture released by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju visiting a cosmetics factory in Sinuiju. Photo: AFP

After three high-profile visits to China since March, North Korea leader Kim Jong-un made a rare yet well-publicized visit to a cosmetic factory in a China-North Korea border town in North Korea.

Chinese analysts say the visit is Pyongyang's latest move to show its expectations of Beijing and to reassure international investors about North Korea's economic determination after the country's historic and fruitful meetings with leaders from China, the US and South Korea.

Kim's visit to the factory was announced by the Pyongyang-based Korean Central News Agency on Sunday, a day after it reported that Kim gave "field guidance" to Sindo county, where the factory, co-developed with China, is located.

Kim said that the cosmetic factory should set higher goals. He demanded the brand run comparative analysis with world famous cosmetics, and diversify its products based on users' preference, age and body type, according to KCNA.

Daily-use commodities are ideal products to kick-start North Korea's foreign trade cooperation as industrial projects remain subject to UN Security Council sanctions, Lü Chao, a research fellow on North Korea at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Sunday, noting that North Korean cosmetics are highly sought after by Chinese tourists.

North Korea has built a comparatively mature light industry for the production of daily commodities, which is also in accordance with Pyongyang's goal of improving people's daily life, said Lü,

After announcing its plan and promise to denuclearize and vow to focus on economic development, North Korea has high expectations for potential partnerships with China, with Sindo and Sinuiju becoming the frontier regions for the North to open to foreign investors, experts said on Sunday.

Sinuiju, which borders Dandong in Northeast China's Liaoning Province, was designated a special economic zone in 2002.

Sinuiju is a "barometer" for China-North Korea relations, and the place has good water, electricity, land and labor resources, said Lü.


A reliable partner

"Under the trend of regionalization, North Korea has practical needs to gradually develop an export-oriented economy," said Da Zhigang, director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies at the Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.

For North Korea, it's more practical to start economic cooperation projects with China and South Korea than with Japan or the US, while China is more politically and diplomatically reliable than South Korea, said Da.

North Korea needs to ensure political stability while pursuing economic development, and China is far more competitive than South Korea in terms of volume and diversity in investment, Da elaborated.

"For China, a rich and peaceful neighbor is far more appealing than a dangerous agitator," said Lü.

He added that China's 40 years' experience in reform and opening-up provides rich lessons for North Korea to develop an export-oriented economy and some North Korean products are popular in China.

Products made by the cosmetic factory visited by Kim include those under the brand "Pomhyanggi," or "Spring Scene." The brand is frequently mentioned on China's social media by visitors returning from North Korea. Chinese fashion bloggers also hailed the brand as inexpensive with its natural ingredients including ginseng.

The cosmetics are available on China's e-commerce platform Taobao at prices ranging from 100 yuan ($15) to 700 yuan. The factory, founded in 1949, is North Korea's first large-scale production base for cosmetics.

Kim's wife Ri Sol-ju, together with high-ranking officials including Kim Song-nam, the first vice director of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea's international department, also joined the visit to the cosmetic factory.

The North Korean top leader's visits not only send a signal to North Koreans that the country is making efforts in improving people's living, but are designed to boost the confidence of foreign investors, said Da.
Newspaper headline: Kim’s factory tour bodes well


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