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Sunday, June 18

A rare report on North Korea's untapped mineral wealth explains many things

Writing for the June 16 edition of Quartz, Steve Mollman, who's also reported for Wired and the Wall Street Journal and specializes in reporting on Asia, has hit a home run with North Korea is sitting on trillions of dollars of untapped wealth, and its neighbors want in.

I think the vast majority of American news consumers would be stunned to learn about the size and scope of the mineral wealth under the Kim regime's control. And Mollman's focus on the mineral resources puts strategic issues concerning the DPRK in a light that is not discussed in the American mainstream media -- issues such as the nation's relationship with China and South Korea, the crippling sanctions imposed on it by the West, and even Kim's relentless push to develop nuclear weapons.

While all dictators fear overthrow and invasion of their country, in this case the fear is not paranoid. More than mineral-rich Afghanistan, North Korea is The Prize:
Below the nation’s mostly mountainous surface are vast mineral reserves, including iron, gold, magnesite, zinc, copper, limestone, molybdenum, graphite, and more—all told about 200 kinds of minerals. Also present are large amounts of rare earth metals, which factories in nearby countries need to make smartphones and other high-tech products.
Estimates as to the value of the nation’s mineral resources have varied greatly over the years, made difficult by secrecy and lack of access. North Korea itself has made what are likely exaggerated claims about them. According to one estimate from a South Korean state-owned mining company, they’re worth over $6 trillion. Another from a South Korean research institute puts the amount closer to $10 trillion.
The catch is that between sanctions, the illegality of private mining and inadequate resources to develop the mineral sector, the country is rich only on paper. 
Despite all this, the nation is so blessed with underground resources that mining makes up roughly 14% of the economy.
And even meager development of mining allows Pyongyang to punch above its weight:
China particularly covets North Korea’s rare earth minerals. Pyongyang knows this. It punished Beijing in March by suspending exports of the metals to China in retaliation for the coal trade restrictions.
That's enough introduction to a report that looks at key pieces in the DPRK puzzle. 

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