North Korea Hosts First Bitcoin Con: Should the Crypto Community Participate?

North Korea Hosts First Bitcoin Con: Should the Crypto Community Participate?

TL;DR: North Korea’s Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference is set for the 18th to 25th of April 2019. Promising “international experts in the Blockchain and Crypto industry will gather for the first time in Pyongyang to share their knowledge and vision, establish connections and discuss business opportunities,” according to its official website, the hermit kingdom under its enigmatic young leader is reaching out to the wider world, and cryptocurrency is increasingly a focal point. 

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North Korea Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference

조선민주주의인민공화국, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea, DPRK) government is allowing approved elements of the crypto ecosystem to its capital, Pyongyang. For seven nights and eight days this Spring, participants, organizers hope, will “share their knowledge and vision, establish connections and discuss business opportunities.”

North Korea Hosts First Bitcoin Conference: Should the Crypto Ecosystem Participate?

For 3,300 euros per person ($3,773.83), conferees can tour around the country with a translator to select attractions like the “Great People’s Study House, Museum of the Korean War, Pyongyang University of Foreign Languages and a Secondary School,” and there’s even a trip to “Kaesong and visit Panmunjon (DMZ-Border between North and South Korea),” among other apparently noteworthy stops (my favorite is something called “the Daedonggang Beer Factory”).

Exceptions to the invitation involve countries with whom the DPRK has no diplomatic relations such as South Korea, Japan, and Israel. “Journalists are not allowed to attend,” the webpage noted without further explanation. Computer equipment and phones are allowed, “but,” they warn, “please note that any mass printed propaganda or digital/printed material against the dignity of the Republic is not allowed.” Phone calls are permitted from the “communications room in the hotel,” and internet “is available in the hotel at the price of 5 USD per hour.”

TokenKey and John McAfee’s Back

Along similar lines of reasoning, the website was careful to explain how the “DPRK can be considered the safest country in the world. As long as you have a basic common-sense and respect for the culture and belief of other nations, you’ll be always welcome,” they stressed.

North Korea Hosts First Bitcoin Conference: Should the Crypto Ecosystem Participate?

The DPRK website lists an organizer on “the technical side” as being “Mr. Chris Emms, Blockchain and Crypto expert.” Emms apparently is at least part of two projects, TokenKey and SkyCoin. TokenKey describes itself as being founded by Emms, and the company claims to assist in “services cover assisting projects to procure: whitepapers and business plans, token economics, auditing and rating, structuring and compliance,” etcetera. It’s not clear if either will have anything to do with the DPRK.

TokenKey is part of the SkyCoin team, which is perhaps most famous for convincing John McAfee to get its logo tattooed on his back. Ultimately, the entire DPRK conference seems to be run by Alejandro Cao de Benós, unconnected with the aforementioned, described as a “Special Delegate for the Committee for Cultural Relations and President of the Korean Friendship Association (KFA).”

Korean Friendship Association

Alejandro Cao de Benós, a 44 year old Spaniard, is, for all intents and purposes, the KFA. The website,, does not have the state-controlled .kp domain abbreviation. Several reports insist KFA is the sole property of Mr. Benós, making it more of a business niche with a founder who has symbolic credentials rather than the “official webpage of DPR of Korea,” as claimed. He’s also fond of dressing in DPRK military regalia.

Pyongyang Science and Technology Complex

That’s not as unusual as it might first read. Countries often hire outside agencies to shill commercial travel, and so nothing sinister needs to be made of the arrangement. However, DPRK is not your average country, and not by a mile.

Pyongyang Science and Technology Complex is the inset picture above, cribbed from KFA. Notice anything odd about its connecting and surrounding arteries? No vehicle traffic. No people. No activity of any kind. A smaller photograph of the complex at night seems to be similarly situated: nothing. And that’s where the conference is to be held. How they’ll manage to host such a tech-oriented soiree without internet (presumably limited in designated hotels) is another thought those considering the trip might wonder at.

Commerce, Trade Changes Things

The application deadline is days away as of this writing, 10 February 2019, and debate continues about with whom crypto should be associated in all its variety: decentralized, distributed ledgers, tokens, coins, peer-to-peer cash, wallets cold and hot, speculative exchanges, miners, associated media.

North Korea Hosts First Bitcoin Con: Should the Crypto Community Participate?

Arguably the last Communist nation of its kind, secluded, isolated, vilified, my peacenik and anarcho-market tendencies urge me to promote the event in a positive light. There’s nothing quite like trade in the commercial sense to open minds and soften hearts. Conversely, folks who do not trade are neglected, deprived from the intercourse of ideas, better and worse.

To have a chance at skipping beyond official belligerents for once, exchange smiles and smells in person, might be an opportunity of a lifetime. Instinctively I distrust anything governments have to say on any matter, and so I am at once aware and dismissive of international diplomatic warnings about DPRK. But that doesn’t change the reality: DPRK is a ghastly place, filled with human zombie prisoners for citizens, and it’s not sober to believe your going there with the Good News of Bitcoin is likely to make things better. Then again, I don’t know when you’d ever have that opportunity again. However, I am for sure not giving $3,000 to that Alejandro dude for anything, regardless of how interesting.

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