Rason City is a city nestled between the north-eastern tip of North Hamgyong Province and the borders with China and Russia. It serves as a port for international shipping and makes up half of the Rason Special Economic Zone along with the neighbouring port city of Sonbong. The city is somewhat of an anomaly in the country since its status as a Special Economic Zone permits foreign direct investment as part of a scheme to allow a limited and tightly regulated market economy to grow and help support the national economy.
Rason and Sonbong are remarkably well connected into the transport network despite their distance from the capital Pyongyang. Given the economic importance placed on the region and the only route to Russia by land is through this area, the Russians and Chinese have invested heavily in developing their own transport links into the country. The Russian border crossing is served by a rail bridge from Josan-ri in the DPRK to Khasan in Russia. The Chinese have a crossing near the Chinese settlement of Pu’endong and have recently been permitted to use the port for their domestic trade since it gives them access to the East Sea which they would otherwise not have. Sections of the Pyongra line between Rason and Khasan have been renovated by the Russian government to increase trade capacity – this line connects to the Trans-Siberian Railway at Vladivostok. Both the Chinese and Russian governments operate piers at the port in Rason and the cities of Rason and Sonbong are home to many joint owned and foreign-based companies.
The Special Economic Zone is administered by the ‘Committee of External Economic Cooperation’ which invites members to invest and establish themselves in the area. The city also boasts the first joint North-South company, the ‘Chilbosanmeri Joint Company’. Rason is also the home of a Naval training base and shipyard for the Korean People’s Navy although it is not a full-blown naval base. A naval base does exist south of Rason at Pangchon-dong. A perimeter fence is visible from satellite imagery surrounding the cities of Rason and Sonbong which has 3 visible guarded crossing points.