Before 1991, Rason was used by the Soviet Union as an alternative warm water port in case Vladivostok was unavailable. From 1993 to 2004, it was administered separately from North Hamgyŏng as the Directly Governed City (Chikhalsi) of Rason. Prior to 1993 and from 2004 to 2009, the city had been part of the North Hamgyŏng Province. Since 2010, the city is a "Special City", again breaking from provincial control but different to its older designation as a "Directly Governed City". It is unclear what this means in practice.
Rason borders Jilin province of China and Khasansky District in Primorsky Krai of Russia. China is making investments in the port as it gives it access to the Sea of Japan. In July 2011, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) gave a green light to the China's domestic trade cargo to be shipped via its port of Rajin from northeast to east China. Coal is shipped from nearby Chinese mines to Shanghai. There is a casino by the sea which caters to Chinese visitors.
North Korea Uncovered (North Korea Google Earth) Maps out Rason's economic infrastructure, including railways, hotels, tourist destinations, cultural facilities, ports, electricity grid, and electrified perimeter fence on Google Earth.