The immaculate but empty beaches of Wonsan are testament to that. Mr Kim has declared that this city, on North Korea’s east coast, will be a tourist hotspot. It just doesn’t have any tourists yet, due to economic sanctions.
We visited Wonsan last month. Concrete skeletons of resort buildings loom over the waterfront but the cranes beside them stand idle.
Generally speaking, North Korea’s economy is in a mess, says Cheng Xiaohe, a professor of international relations specialising in North Korea at Renmin University in Beijing.
When Mr Kim took power in 2011, he publicly declared he would focus on obtaining nuclear weapons and economic development – a two-pronged strategy called the Byungjin line formulated in 2013.
But Prof Cheng said the two goals contradicted each other.
So this country has failed to develop the economy at the same time as it advanced its nuclear weapons and missiles rapidly.
Earlier this year the North Korean leadership officially declared an end to the Byungjin line, instead focusing on the economy.
The Byungjin line failed but the government leaders refused to recognise it publicly, Prof Cheng said.
Wonsan is one of several special economic zones in North Korea. It’s a model similar to the one pioneered by China when it opened up in the late 1970s. In theory, there are several benefits.
North Korea could conduct special policies and give all kinds of privileges to foreign companies to do business in that area, Prof Cheng said.
Also, the special economic zones could help isolate this area from the other part of North Korea so North Korea could go ahead with some special arrangement with foreign economies.
But reality – and North Korea’s pursuit of the nuclear part of the Byungjin line – got in the way of the plan. You see in the past years North Korea has set up more than 20 special economic areas but they’ve basically failed because of international sanctions – foreign companies aren’t allowed to invest in the country.
That’s what Mr Kim wants from the summit not economic aid from the US (North Korean statements have been scathing about that idea) but the opportunity to attract foreign investment. That requires sanctions being lifted.
Dandong is a Chinese city on the China-North Korea border; on the other side of the Yalu River is Sinuiju, another North Korean special economic zone. A single-lane bridge connects the two countries. Here we saw an uneven flow of trucks, trains and tourist make the journey across.
Further along the river, there’s an impressive new bridge. It was completed in 2015. Well, nearly. The North Korean side ends in a field, with no connection to a road.
Dandong is primed for North Korean trade but it’s currently on pause. We visited the main fish market, which used to stock plenty of North Korean seafood. Sanctions imposed in 2017 put an end to that, although China is said to have relaxed the ban recently. We were offered North Korean clams, which are prized for their sweetness.
Residents are optimistic about the US-North Korean summit – and what it means for their wealth.
Zhang Tong, an estate agent working at Moon Island, a complex of soaring towers, says the summit has accelerated sales.
She gestures to the North Korean side, in full view from the balcony of one show home. In front of us, several years ago, there weren’t too many buildings, she said.
If North Korea develops well, I think the friendship between China and North Korea will go better. And the economy and trade between the two countries will develop better too.
And Dandong’s economy will develop better too.
None of that comes without risk, though – not least for Mr Kim himself, both internationally and domestically.
Prof Cheng said This time, when North Korea tried to change its gears, to single mindedly focus on economic development – such changes met resistance from other North Korean elites.
Recently Kim Jong Un sacked three military guys – and that’s the indication it’s not easy for North Korea to change its policy in very dramatic ways.
Mr Kim’s nuclear arsenal might appear to give him a position of strength but the reality is more precarious. He must deliver economic growth to preserve his rule. But opening up will also bring its own pressures on the regime.
And, either way, there’s still the chance that Singapore won’t even give him the opportunity to do so.
News Source SkyNews