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TheStreet Open House

Infant Foreign Ventures at Risk if North Korea Gets Too Angry

TAIPEI ( TheStreet) -- It's not quite central Hong Kong, but a foreign business community has sprouted in North Korea. Rocket tests put it at risk.

The uber-Communist country that assigns foreign visitors to minders, seldom admits Americans at all and last week launched a rocket, is gingerly letting in the politically correct merchants to work in the politically correct fields.

Chinese, South Koreans and Europeans, to name the top sources, invest in mines, factories and even video games, to name some of the top enterprises.

But let's talk first about the Dec. 12 launch, as angry governments -- as far up as the U.N. Security Council -- have done throughout the world.

North Korea just does this kind of thing, even the new leader Kim Jong-un who is said to be more open than predecessor Kim Jung-il to economic reforms.

So far none of the missile tests have hit anything of significance (rocket debris fell into the Yellow Sea off South Korea earlier this month). Nor do they prove that the country of 24 million people is preparing to strike one of its archenemies: South Korea, Japan or the U.S.

North Korea may truly be planning an attack, but the tests themselves do not lead conclusively to that fallout.

Military tests are also geared to make dear leaders look dearer at home, and consider the partying in Pyongyang after last week's launch that was officially geared toward putting a satellite into orbit. And the launches get obvious attention overseas, the way your 5-year-old might by projecting stemware at the kitchen wall.

North Korea launched another rocket in April, as widely reported then, but the thing broke apart in flight and was considered a failure.

Whether Pyongyang is out to stick something or orbit as it claims or stick an ICBM where it counts, extra-harsh condemnation from abroad could threaten foreign enterprises if the North Korea strikes back at their home countries to get even.

Stats are almost impossible to get from North Korea, but the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development says foreign direct investment totaled $1.53 billion last year, up from $1.044 billion in 2000 and $572 million in 1990.

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