Photo: Stephanie T. Kleine-Ahlbrandt
Anyone following North Korean press may have noticed the country seems to be indulging in some sort of construction boom recently. Kim Jong-un seems to be constantly opening impressive new amusement parks, and recent photos from Pyongyang showed large-scale projects and gleaming towers hitting the skyline. Then, of course, there’s the rocket launches, and the rumours of another atomic bomb.So where is the money coming from?
In an article over at Asia Times, Leonid A Petrov, a lecturer in Korean studies at the University of Sydney, points out that many experts expected the North Korean state to crumble after the fall of the USSR. Petrov writes that the country’s salvation came from its incredible natural resources.
The country’s mountainous regions are thought to sit on around 200 different minerals, including, crucially, a large number of rare earth metals. The total worth of these deposits is thought to be worth more than $6 trillion*.
There’s two clear outcomes of this, according to Petrov:
- North Korea may begin to resemble an oil-rich gulf state, using the huge profits from a natural resource to keep in place an inefficient and corrupt state.
- Kim may have to turn increasingly to other countries with greater technology, such as China, the world’s leading expert in rare earth metals, and even South Korea.
Incredibly, we’re already beginning to see this new North Korea in action, not just newfound government spending, but also in its relationship with other countries. According to the WSJ, South Korea’s state-owned commodities developer recently admitted it held talks in North Korea last year about a possible joint-rare earth venture.
*CORRECTION: This article originally said that the rare earth metals alone were worth $6 trillion, but the figure in fact refers to all of the mineral deposits.
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