A North Korea casino project has been abandoned after folding to pressure from regional superpower China, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA).
The Washington D.C.-based broadcaster said North Korea was building a 30-story hotel in Sinuiju on its northwestern border with China in the hope that an influx of Chinese tourists would ease its economic woes. But construction was “suddenly” halted with only 20 floors complete, because authorities in Beijing found out about the plan, a source told RFA.
Gambling is illegal in China with the exception of two state-owned lotteries, and Beijing wants to curb its citizens’ appetite for gambling abroad, while stemming the outflow of capital to the casinos of neighboring nations.
Kim Jong Un’s sanction-hit regime has long been interested in boosting its tourism industry. Its proximity to China would make it a casino developer’s dream — were it not for its totalitarian, pariah status and appalling human rights record.
But China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner and arguably has the most influence on the regime. Since the break-up of the former Soviet Union and the imposition of sanctions by the West, North Korea has precious few trading partners left.
Yang’s Capitalist Enclave
But a source who spoke to South Korean broadsheet Chosun Ibo this week questioned whether China would challenge a casino being built on North Korean territory.
The sources noted that there is already a North Korean casino close to the Chinese border, but at the other end of the country — in the Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone in the northeast — to which Beijing has apparently made no objection. Chosun Ibo suggests it’s just as likely that the project has merely run out of financing.
However, a source in Dandong — a Chinese city just across the Yalu River from Sinuiju — told the newspaper that the developer behind the halted North Korean casino is Dutch-Chinese billionaire Yang Bin, who has been trying to attract foreign capital to finance its completion.
Yang was once the second-richest man in China, and in 2002 was recruited by Pyongyang to run the Sinuiju economic zone. With the blessing of former North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il, Yang planned to turn the zone into a semi-autonomous capitalist enclave, which China feared could destabilize the political and economic management of the region.
Shortly after, Yang was arrested by Chinese authorities and imprisoned on charges of tax evasion. He was released in September 2016, but his reappearance in Sinuiju might be sufficient reason for Beijing to put the kibosh on the idea.
North Korea Asks Trump for Help
These days, Kim Junior has other priorities — namely the development of Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist region, where he is believed to have spent much of his childhood.
It was widely reported in June that a top North Korean aide directly asked Donald Trump for American investment to help build an integrated casino resort in Wonsan on a visit to the White House.
According to estimates by the South Korean government, the tourist zone will generate around $50 million per year for North Korea, a significant sum for a country whose entire annual trade volume is just $7 billion.
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