This paper centers upon two potentially transformative Special Economic Zones (SEZs) on the DPRK’s northwestern frontier – Hwanggumpyeong and Wihwa Islands. As part of a strategy for development along North Korea’s northern rim put in place by Kim Jong-il in the two years prior to his death (and following the visit of Wen Jiabao to the DPRK in October 2009), the islands fell under the management of Jang Song-taek. When Jang was abruptly purged, the role of the economic zones came into question: Would the DPRK continue the development of the zones, which was already moving quite slowly? Why did North Korea start a number of new SEZs along the frontier with China just prior to Jang’s purge, apparently without coordinating with Beijing? What does this unilateral recalibration by North Korea of its own use and geographical location of SEZs with China say with respect to internal debates over “reform and opening up” in Pyongyang? Using an array of non-English sources with a focus on Hwanggumpyeong and Wihwa Islands, this paper will reveal how China appears to be going along with North Korea’s new SEZ strategy in the border region in a reluctant bid to remain engaged and at the forefront of non-Korean investment in the DPRK.