One of China's richest businessmen has been tapped to head a new commercial zone in North Korea. Yang Bin will preside over an autonomous business enclave on the border with China.
Yang Bin, 39, has officially been chosen chief executive of Sinuijiu City in northwestern North Korea.
Mr. Yang is a Dutch citizen of Chinese birth. He is famous in China for building a huge flower exporting business. Forbes magazine named him the country's second wealthiest tycoon last year, with estimated personal assets of $900 million.
Anthony Michell, president of the Euro-Asian Business Consultancy in Seoul, says that Mr. Yang is the right person to lead the North Korean special economic zone because of his Chinese background, his European citizenship and China's close relations with North Korea.
"I think there is every reason to think that in a new market environment in North Korea and with the involvement of Mr. Yang, who has shown remarkable entrepreneurial ability in other areas, that we are going to see something quite interesting," said Mr. Mitchell. "It may not be that interesting on a global scale, but in terms of that corner of Northeast Asia, I think it will be quite a success," he said.
Mr. Yang faces an enormous challenge. North Korea's leaders have asked him to turn Sinuijiu into a hub of international commerce and tourism. A decree issued by Pyongyang on September 12 says the new zone, located on the western edge of a river flowing between China and North Korea, will have its own legislative, judicial and executive powers. It will issue its own passports and foreign residents will be accorded the same rights as local citizens. The area will be a stark departure from the rest of the impoverished country, which is run by a hard-line communist government that bans private ownership of assets.
The plan has drawn comparisons with the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. It started out as a poor fishing village but exploded into a commercial hub in just two decades after Beijing chose it as a special economic zone.
The creation of a similar zone in the North is the latest indication that the isolated country is shifting away from its doctrine of complete self-reliance. In recent months, Pyongyang has resumed high-level talks with Japan and South Korea, and has said it wants to begin talks with the United States.