Land Of Opportunity
Bloomberg Businessweek Middle East|1 July, 2018

Optimists see a huge turnaround play. Pessimists call it a graveyard of foreign investments

Andy Sharp, with Sohee Kim, Daniele Lepido, Chris Anstey, Serene Cheong, Ben Bartenstein, Rachel Chang, and Tomoko Yamazaki
Would any corporate executive in his or her right mind be willing to put big money into a centrally planned economic underachiever? One that’s best known for food shortages, a backward manufacturing sector, and woefully inadequate infrastructure?

Maybe a businessman whose name adorns buildings in such places as Azerbaijan, Panama, and the Philippines. On June 12, Donald Trump wrapped up an historic summit with Kim Jong Un with a plug for North Korea’s waterfront. “They have great beaches,” America’s realtor-in-chief said at a news conference. “You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean. I said, ‘Boy, look at that view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo?’ ”

Pristine coastline isn’t North Korea’s only untapped asset. The country boasts vast stores of minerals—including iron and rare earths—which could be worth $6 trillion, according to a 2013 estimate by the North Korea Resources Institute in Seoul. There are also unconfirmed reports of oil and gas deposits in the East and West seas. Then there’s North Korea’s working-age population of about 17 million, another potential asset in the eyes of businesses in Japan, South Korea, and China, where labour forces are graying and shrinking. “Northeast â€‹Asia could become one of the most exciting places in the world,” says Masaaki Kanno, chief economist at Sony Financial Holdings Inc.

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