Seoul Funds Capitalism 101 for Leading N.Koreans

      January 08, 2010 09:15

      Forty-eight senior North Korean officials and experts were given a crash course in capitalism at Dalian University of China with money from the South Korean government.

      Some 23 officials from central government agencies like the State Planning Commission, the Trade Ministry and the Foreign Ministry, 15 businesspeople and eight lawyers and academics from Kim Il-sung University and other institutions were on the program. The course was given to four groups of 12 in four sessions each in October and November last year.

      A senior South Korean government official on Wednesday confirmed the government paid W225 million (US$1=W1,135) for what he called a "cooperative knowledge project for North Korea" targeting mid-career and senior economic figures. The budget for the project had been earmarked since 2008. That the course happened at all came as a surprise to some who believed it was unlikely that the North would go ahead.

      "We entrusted the course to Dalian University because we believed it was only likely to happen in China, North Korea's closest ally," another government official said. "The government decided to stay in the background," he said, and instead let Seoul National University's Center for Unification and Peace sign a contract for the course with Dalian University's China-North Korea exchange center.

      The course included on-site training that provided the officials with first-hand experience of China's reforms in fast-developing Chinese cities like Shanghai. Chinese or English texts were translated into Korean and Korean-Chinese professors were invited to teach the course.

      A Strategy and Finance Ministry official said, "The North Korean officials who participated in the course did not mind that the course was funded by us. They seemed clearly determined to learn about the market economy and be prepared for the future." He added the content reflected the North's requests, with particular attention paid to international trade and light industry policies.

      "Judging from the participants' responses and comments, it seems the North Korean leadership is firmly determined to learn the principles of the market economy," another ministry official said.

      The government plans to offer another course in the second half of this year and is considering expanding the program.

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