According to a recent geological study, North Korea could hold more than twice the known global deposits of rare earths — minerals used in electronics such as smartphones and high definition televisions.
If the study is verified and the deposits opened up, they could prove a game-changer for North Korea, breaking up China’s near-monopoly on the market but posing new challenges for the Pyongyang regime.
“The two conditions of [the North Korean government’s] survival, the constant crisis and the isolation which are needed for the maintenance of the regime, would be jeopardized,” said Leonid Petrov, a Korean studies researcher at the Australian National Studies University’s College of Asia and the Pacific, in an interview with Voice of America.
The country’s unexploited mineral deposits are estimated to be worth trillions. As it released the study results in December, U.K.-based private equity firm SRE Minerals also announced that it had signed a 25-year deal to develop a site in Jongju, northwest of Pyongyang, in a joint venture with state-owned Korea Natural Resources Trading Corporation.