North Korea – Special Economic Area
by Adrien Golinelli
Rason special city, on the north-eastern extremity of the country, has the typical anatomy of a North Korean city: Stern, crossed by overly wide, almost empty avenues, and with ubiquitous reminders of the prevailing ideology. But at a closer look, Rason is not like any other cities in DPRK. Here and there, it carries the unprecedented foretaste of some degree of free economy in North Korea.
Rason is the only place in North Korea where you’ll sight a bank, a casino, glassy office buildings, fairs full of frenetic customers, and even a Hummer. But alongside, people still carry heavy barrows, plough fields like in the middle age, and live secluded from the outside world. North Korea, a cash-strapped country with the same GDP per capita as in the seventies and a long-failing planned economy, has no choice but to open parts of it. Here is the place where it is testing it real-scale.
North Korea, ten years forward.
No one can predict when and how it will open up, but once it will, North Korea will probably look just like this. A mix of tacky luxury and acute poverty, and stores finally full of goods of every sorts but the same tight grip on people’s life.
With a new rail link to Russia and a construction boom fuelled by Chinese buyers, fresh capital is staring to flow in Rason and with it, the exaggerated promise of brighter days. It will never be Hong Kong, no. But it could be Shenzhen one day.