North Korea is trying to attract investment for its special economic zones while stalling over moves to bring foreign businesses into the more viable joint-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex.
The regime held a promotional event in Pyongyang and hosted a seminar in China, but pundits believe it is unlikely they will have much success.
The official KCNA news agency said the North launched an agency calling itself the Korea Economic Development Association "to assist potential foreign investors in newly-established special economic zones."
Its first project was an international seminar at the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang on Wednesday that brought together some economists from Canada and Malaysia, KCNA added.
North Korea "has a new policy to establish and develop special economic zones where privileged economic activities are guaranteed within a framework set by the state," Ri Chol-sok, the vice chairman of the association, told the seminar.
Back in late May, the North enacted a law to set up a special zone in each major city and province. In an unprecedented move, KCNA printed the association's contact details such as telephone number and e-mail address.
A trade fair was also held in Dandong in the Chinese province of Liaoning on Oct. 10-14. In an interview with a semi-official Chinese newspaper on Monday, Han Chang-song of North Korea's Committee of Investment and Joint Venture, who attended the trade fair, said, "Any foreigner can invest in the North, regardless of their nationality."
The committee is a Workers Party organ in charge of luring foreign investment to the North. It is led by Ri Su-yong, the former North Korean ambassador to Switzerland who took care of leader Kim Jong-un while he was studying there.
Han added, "We're preparing to ensure convenience for foreign businesspeople in customs clearance, residence, travel and communication."
At the trade fair, a North Korean official also said the a ski resort in Masikryong in Kangwon Province, one of Kim Jong-un's key pet projects, will "open in January."
Another North Korean official said Asian and European investors have toured nearby Wonsan and "expressed an intention to invest there."
Pyongyang also planned an investment blitz in Beijing for the special zones on Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing together economists and businesspeople from both Koreas and China. But it had to cancel the event because the Unification Ministry here banned South Korean officials and businesspeople from attending any events hosted by the North, a Beijing-based source said.