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DANDONG, China, Oct. 18 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is still showing off its products at an annual trade fair with China, but the number of North Korean business entities attending the event this year was about 30 percent less than last year.
The mood is subdued at the five-day trade fair in the Chinese border city of Dandong, reflecting strained political ties between North Korea and China amid Beijing's signals of displeasure with Pyongyang's nuclear ambition.
Organizers had said that about 100 North Korean business entities would attend the annual exhibition, but only 68 of them actually attended this year's event. About 100 North Korean business entities attended last year's exhibition.
The crowd was also noticeably smaller than it was last year.
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"This year, we didn't bring many products. Instead of selling products, we come here with hopes to meet with Chinese people who want to invest in our factory," said an official at a North Korean trading firm who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The decline in North Korea's participation at the North Korea-China Economic, Trade, Culture and Tourism Expo, which began its five-day run Thursday, underscored the continued strain in bilateral relations, particularly after the North's third nuclear test in February last year and the execution of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's once-powerful uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who had close ties with Beijing.
In what many analysts believe was a message to North Korea, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a two-day visit to South Korea in July this year, breaking a long-standing tradition by Chinese heads of state of visiting Pyongyang before Seoul.
North Korea's bilateral trade with China stood at US$4.05 billion in the first eight months of this year, down 1.1 percent from the same period last year, according to Chinese customs data.
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Economic development, along with the expansion of its nuclear capability, has been a new focus of North Korea's policy under young leader Kim Jong-un, who took over in late 2011 after his father, Kim Jong-il, died.
North Korea, beset by poor infrastructure and international sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs, has announced plans to set up an economic development zone in each of its provinces.
Despite sanctions that discourage foreign investment, Kim Jong-sik, an official at the North's National Economic Development General Bureau, told an audience at the exhibition that Pyongyang would set up a "one-stop service" that makes it easier for foreigners to invest in the country.
"With regard to economic development zones, we will simplify immigration procedures and build a one-stop service, which has been widely introduced around the world, to try to fully guarantee conveniences of foreign investors," Kim said.
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