North Korea, which has boasted ballistic missiles and nuclear arms, has begun producing the country's first home-built bicycles, China's Xinhua news agency said in a dispatch from Pyongyang.
The factory, a joint venture with China, opened in Pyongyang on Oct. 7 with a number of senior officials from the two countries attending. They included Paek Hyun-Bong, chairman of the North's Committee for the Promotion of External Economic Cooperation, and Wu Donghe, Chinese ambassador to Pyongyang.
Energy-starved North Korea needs some 7 million bicycles, officials said. "The bicycle was the most important thing, because the buses and trams stopped running due to energy shortages," said one North Korean who recently defected to the South. "But bicycles are a luxury, so most people walk," he said.
Under an agreement made last November, Chinese investors provide materials, equipment and cash to have a 51-percent stake in the $650,000 Pyongjin Bicycle Joint Venture, with North Korea holding the remaining with its labor force. The two sides would jointly run the factory for 20 years.
The plant will produce up to 300,000 "moran [peony] peak" units a year, reducing its reliance on second-hand imports from neighbors Japan and China, the report said. The joint-venture company has more than 50 models including one that it said would become the new workhorse for the North's postal service.
The construction of the bicycle plant was a main economic project in North Korea, according to sources in Seoul. Premier Pak Bong-Ju has visited the factory several times while it was under construction. North Korea also displayed bicycle parts at the Pyongyang International Products Expo last May.
In an apparent indication of its political implications, the bicycle factory opened just three days before North Korea marked the 60th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party.