March 4 (UPI) -- A North Korean economic delegation visited a Chinese city to discuss "construction materials" in what could be the first people-to-people exchange between the two countries since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Korean news network YTN reported Thursday that the North Korean delegation represented a state-owned enterprise specializing in crude oil. The company operates under North Korea's ministry of chemical industry, the report said.
Shin Yong Nam, the president of the state-owned firm, met with the vice mayor of Tongchuan in central Shaanxi Province. Tongchuan disclosed information about the meeting, which took place Wednesday, according to YTN.
The Chinese city said in its official statement that the purpose of the North Korean visit was to explore a project for "construction material production." Shin reportedly told Chinese officials he "looked forward to cooperation" with the city.
The North Korean delegation also visited a trade association and a cement manufacturer, and toured factories, including a ceramic maker, the city said. An official with an import-export company in northeastern Liaoning Province accompanied the North Koreans, according to the report.
The rare North Korean visit to a mid-level Chinese city comes at a time when Kim Jong Un could be eager to rehabilitate the economy. North Korea's trade with China plunged 80% in 2020, according to South Korean estimates.
Korean Workers' Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported Thursday that the Supreme People's Assembly adopted a plan to develop an area of the eastern coast.
The area could include Mount Kumgang, a resort formerly part of an inter-Korean project. Infrastructure projects require raw materials, but supplies could be short in the North, South Korean analysts have said.
The Rodong also said the assembly on Wednesday adopted a disinfection law requiring all imports to be thoroughly sprayed with virus-killing agents at border checkpoints.
Hong Min, a South Korean analyst at Seoul's Korea Institute for National Unification, said North Korea could be looking to ease border restrictions, Kyunghyang Shinmun reported.