About eighteen months ago I joined the South Korean government in generally investing in the North, by buying shares in a small Irish oil explorer called Aminex that had just announced the signing of a deal with the North Korean government, under Swiss law, which would open up areas of the west and east sea for prospecting. At the time, it looked as though the North was toying with the notion of going down the Chinese road of economic development and possibly even opening up accordingly. The first step was the kind of energy development the North needed, not to mention the potential for dollar earnings that might come from any significant oil discovery. The idea wasn't fanciful - the Chinese were already operating fields to the west of the peninsula which were considered to be part of the same geological structures.
Of course, as things turned out, the US started to turn the screws on the North's overseas banking operations and North Korea decided to put its energies into building bombs instead. So having bought Aminex at 9 and watched it rise to 50, I spent the next nine months watching it drop back to 18 even though during the interim we all wrote off the North Korean dream and got excited about East Africa instead. From time to time as North's government blew hot and cold we'd check the various pronouncements from the official news agency's website - trying to read between the lines to work out whether we were ever going to see any progress on that part of our investment.
When I came to South Korea I discovered after a few weeks when I came to follow a link to a story on the site, that I couldn't access it. At first I didn't know whether this was by design or accident - I've written before about the inability of my ISP, LG Powercom, to connect to several websites I frequent such as financial site Citywire and shopping site Quidco, both of which are not noted for their views on Marxist ideology. A brief search revealed that I wasn't the only one with the problem, so it seemed that the inaccessibility was not an accident.
I found a couple of Korean proxy servers to route through so that I could access the daily round-up of broker recommendations for various UK stocks on Citywire, but of course, that didn't solve the News Agency problem. Over the weekend I really wanted to know what they were saying, so I finally got around to installing Tor, Privoxy and Vidalia to discover a very matter-of-fact report on the delegation leaving for China. There was no rhetoric or vitriol - and I thought it highly significant. As a deal appeared to edge closer yesterday, I altered my position on Aminex accordingly.
There's a lot that could be said about this whole business because the implications about life here are profound but of course, I really can't. But here's a fascinating footnote to this story. The North Korean News Agency website, which was still blocked as late as Sunday is now accessible through LG Powercom with no proxy servers to route around the firewall. So maybe this deal, which honestly I thought would probably only be good for a few months before another breakdown, really is the start of something new. Maybe, at least.