Skip to content
Subscriber Only

North Korea, New Land of Opportunity?

In North Korea, foreign investment is rising in spite of the hassles

As chairman of Wanxiang Group, a Chinese auto parts and mining conglomerate, Lu Guanqiu knows the headaches of doing business in diverse environments. He controls dozens of factories in the U.S. that serve the troubled auto industry and mines in Indonesia, remote western China, and North Korea. “North Korea is like China was 30-plus years ago,” the onetime farmer says in a chilly reception room at Wanxiang’s headquarters in Hangzhou, 100 miles southwest of Shanghai. “Through our contact, we are certain they will become more open and more liberated.”

Despite its guiding doctrine of Juche, or self-reliance, and its reputation as a rogue nuclear state and the last bastion of personality-cult totalitarianism, North Korea is attracting foreign companies with an appetite for risk and a tolerance for government meddling. Chinese, South Korean, and about 30 European companies have invested in copper and gold mines, factories producing medications and blue jeans, and even Internet service. (Americans and Canadians are largely barred from doing business there.)