North Korea and China on Wednesday broke ground on a border island to develop it into an economic zone, spurring speculation that Pyongyang may embrace Chinese-style economic development to try to revive its faltering economy.
The groundbreaking ceremony came on the heels of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's weeklong trip to China in May to study the neighboring country's spectacular economic development, his third trip to China in just over a year.
Beijing has been trying to lure its impoverished ally to embrace the reform that lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty and helped Beijing's rise to becoming the world's second-largest economy.
On Wednesday, some 1,000 people from North Korea and China, including Kim's brother-in-law, Jang Song-thaek, and Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming, attended the ceremony on Hwanggumphyong Island in the Yalu River that separates the two countries.
Several dozen giant advertising balloons were floating in the air as a military brass band played festive songs, and hundreds of doves were released at the ceremony.
The messages on the balloons read "North Korea-China friendship and joint development" in a symbolic gesture for their commitment to the project.
The two sides also reportedly signed a deal on the joint development project, including lease terms on Hwanggumphyong.
No details were immediately available.
The massive ceremony came two days after Pyongyang said it will turn the Hwanggumphyong and Wihwa islands into the economic zone to boost friendly ties with China and expand and develop external economic relations.
The North's parliament said Monday that the development of the zone will start from the Hwanggumphyong district.
The move comes nearly a decade after North Korea scrapped its fledging reform movement.
In 2002, the North designated Sinuiju, just across from the Chinese border city of Dandong, as a special economic zone, but the plan fell through after Beijing arrested its governor, Yang Bin, a Chinese-Dutch entrepreneur, on bribery and kickback charges.
North Korea is now seeking to boost economic cooperation with China as part of its efforts to achieve its stated goal of becoming a prosperous country by 2012, the centennial of the birth of its late founding leader, Kim Il-sung.