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N. Korea Unveils New Economic Zones

Members of the Association of Companies at Kaesong Industrial Complex look to their left during a news conference in Paju, north of Seoul, April 4, 2013.
North Korea has announced plans to open new special economic zones in a bid to bolster its struggling economy.

Pyongyang announced a new non-governmental group to assist potential foreign investors in the new zones while hosting academics and economic experts for a two-day conference this week.

Ri Chol Sok, vice-president of the Korea Economic Development Association, is quoted by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) as saying North Korea is paying deep attention to developing the special economic zones.

However, analysts are not convinced foreign businesses will be interested in making large investments.

Cho Bong-hyun, a research fellow at the IBK Economy Research Institute, says Pyongyang has tried and failed at this before.

"Over the past few years, the North Korea government has made efforts to attract foreign investments but those efforts did not bear fruit due to international sanctions and unfavorable political environment," he said. "This latest move is another attempt under the cover of a civilian body."

The push to open new zones follows the temporary closing of the inter-Korean Kaesong industrial complex during heightened political tensions between Pyongyang and Seoul this year.

Im Eul-chul, a professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, says Pyongyang will be more successful if it focuses on improving its relations with the United States.

"It is critical for North Korea to improve its relations with the U.S. to attract foreign capital and revive its ailing economy," he said. "Improving relations with the U.S. could reduce tension on the Korean peninsula and create peaceful atmosphere, which would help North Korea achieve its goal of reviving economy."

North Korea, one of the poorest countries in the world, has experimented with special economic zones since the 1990s.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.