North Korea may not have many smartphones, laptops or electric cars, but the "hermit kingdom" does have huge deposits of the rare earth minerals necessary for making such high-tech gadgets. Such minerals could end up supplying South Korea's high-tech industries — but only if the Koreas can overcome decades of wartime footing.
The North's hidden treasure trove has inspired both North and South Korea to try bridging more than 60 years of bitter history to open access to the impoverished country's mineral wealth, according to AFP. The two Koreas remain divided with their heavily-armed militaries facing one another across the 38th parallel after the Korean War that began in 1950.
South Korean corporate and government representatives visited North Korea last year for meetings in Pyongyang — an idea proposed by the North's leadership. North Korea may have as much as 20 million tons of rare earth deposits, according to the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper.
China remains the world's top supplier of rare earth minerals with 55 million tons in its deposits. The country also holds a virtual monopoly over the rare earth market because it owns the world's only processing planets capable of breaking down rare earth ores.
That Chinese control of rare earth minerals has led countries such as the U.S., Japan and South Korea to look for alternative sources of rare earth mines to avoid possible mineral shortages for their high-tech industries.