Report: N. Koreans took crash course in US capitalism

Posted at 04/04/2011 3:56 PM

SEOUL, South Korea - North Korean officials had a crash course in capitalism including trips to Google and Qualcomm during a 16-day trip to the United States, a report said Monday.

The 12-strong economic delegation from the hardline communist state left San Francisco for Beijing Sunday after touring major firms and attending seminars with US scholars, JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported.

The officials and their American hosts tried to keep the trip low-profile and the US State Department declined comment on it.

But the paper said it obtained a copy of the itinerary, which showed visits to firms including Google, Home Depot, Qualcomm, Citigroup, Bloomberg News, Bloomingdale's department store and power plant operator Sempra Energy.

The North Koreans also toured Universal Studios in Los Angeles.

They showed keen interest in the food industry, touring rice and mushroom farms in California as well as food processing firm Clarmil Manufacturing, JoongAng said.

The paper said six director-level officials were in the group, including delegation chief Yon Il from the trade ministry. Others came from the agriculture, finance and industry ministries.

The trip was partly arranged by the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California, San Diego.

The visitors also attended seminars on corporate strategies, consumer protection, monetary policies and international economic cooperation, the report said.

Former US defence secretary William Perry and Siegfried Hecker, a Stanford University professor who last year toured the North's new uranium enrichment plant, joined them at one of the seminars, JoongAng said.

The North's main ally China has urged it to adopt free-market reforms to revive the crumbling state-directed economy. But analysts believe the regime is unwilling to go too far in relaxing its grip, despite acute food shortages.

There have been intermittent crackdowns on private markets which sprang up after the North's state food distribution system collapsed during a famine in the 1990s.