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.)
In Pyongyang, Egypt's Orascom Telecom is building a 3G mobile-phone network and DHL delivers packages. Two Hong Kong-listed companies operate casinos for tourists (locals aren't allowed in). France's Lafarge owns 30 percent of a cement plant that employs 3,000 workers. German-backed outsourcer Nosotek offers North Korean programming help to Western companies developing cell-phone games. A Swedish group markets Noko Jeans, made in the North.
Total accumulated foreign investment in North Korea reached $1.475bn in 2010, up from $1.437bn the previous year, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Some $6.5 billion more is in the works as Chinese infrastructure companies plan new ports, highways, and power plants, according to the Samsung Economic Research Institute, a think tank in Seoul.
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