Workers' paradise on show to capitalists

MAY DAY CELEBRATIONS: Pageants, funfairs - and widespread anger at falling living standards Foreign businesses are promised 'no social unrest, no labour strikes'

FBy the time they down tools for May Day in the workers' paradise, North Korea's toiling masses clearly deserve a rest. "The working class across the country is greeting the day with a great productive upsurge in socialist economic construction," reported the official news agency yesterday. In the five previous days, electricity generation and iron, steel and coal output had scored impressive increases compared with the same period last year, while the peasants were performing "feats of labour", it continued.

As is customary before public holidays, some workers had been obliged to perform these feats on Sunday to make up for Monday's day off. But yesterday it was every proletarian's duty to have fun. The festivities had been launched the previous evening with a soire for 50,000 synchronised dancers in Kim Il Sung Square, Pyongyang. On May Day morning, some of them had to be up early to attend the Mangyongdae funfair, as human props in a pageant staged to demonstrate to foreign tourists that happiness and stability reign in North Korea's normally sealed Communist regime.

It has all been part of a rare experiment by the government during the past week in open door diplomacy, with 15,000 foreigners, most from East Asia, being allowed in for the Pyongyang International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace. In a country where the slogan "we have nothing to envy from the rest of the world" is emblazoned across factory walls, this brief opening has been an uncommon admission by North Korea's xenophobic rulers that the country might need the rest of the world after all.

At one of North Korea's infrequent press conferences, Kim Mun Song, the Secretary General of the External Economic Co-operation and Promotion Committee, last week said the government was pressing ahead with the Rajin- Sonbong free economic and trade zone near the border with Russia and China. "The door is open to any country. We are providing conditions for them to invest," he said. Foreign business people will be allowed into the fenced-off area of 746 sq km without visas and Mr Kim promised them "no social unrest or mistrust ... no labour strikers". At the same time Pyongyang said it wanted to see steady growth in the number of foreign tourists entering the country.

These tentative advances to the outside world come at a time when the country is still in a state of shock following the death last July of president Kim Il Sung and the economy is struggling to cope with the demise of the Soviet Union. In the absence of public statistics, outside analysts estimate it has been shrinking by 5 per cent a year. During five days of being escorted along the officially designated tourist path, perhaps 200 construction cranes could be seen, of which one was working.

Outside the new economic zone, North Korea remains a bastion of Communist central planning. Food and housing are heavily subsidised, with the government selling grain to its urban population at one tenth of what it pays farmers for their output. Allowing the door to open slightly to the outside may be a dangerous gamble for North Korea's rulers. The information-starved population could discover just how different things are elsewhere.

n WASHINGTON (Reuter) - North Korea has agreed to a new round of talks with the US aimed at salvaging a major bilateral nuclear agreement, the State Department announced.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Salesforce Developer

£50000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued business growt...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Sales Executive

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Finance / Accounts Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss