NK-political bureau

SEOUL, April 1 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's appointment of former premier Pak Pong-ju as standing member of the Political Bureau of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) may signal the start of an economic reform drive in the communist country, Pyongyang watchers in Seoul said Monday.

The official tapped to sit in the country's top policymaking body was the country's prime minister from 2003 to 2007 and is cited for having pushed forwarded the "July 1 Decree" in 2002 that calls for wage setting reforms, better consumer price control and more freedom for businesses operating in the country.

The WPK's Political Bureau is made up of the around 10 people who effectively control how the country is run and has been strengthened after North Korea's incumbent leader Kim Jong-un took control of the country following the sudden death of his father Kim Jong-il in late 2011.

Before he was premier, Pak visited South Korea as chemical industry minister, and while he fell out of favor for several years for the social upheaval caused by the economic reform decree, Pak has since regained influence. Some North Korean watchers have speculated that he has ties with Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who is widely considered the No. 2 man in the communist country.

"Pak being named to fill the vacancy in the Politburo can be a sign that the North is interested in achieving economic growth," said Lim Eul-chul, a research professor at Kyungnam University. The expert pointed out that judging by Pak's track record, he may try to push for greater leeway in the light industry and agricultural sector, and advocate policies to cope with waste and inefficiency that have plagued the North Korean economy.

Other scholars said that Kim Jong-un has been stressing the importance of the light industry and farming this year, and that Pak may be tasked with strengthening these areas.

Reflecting this, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the WPK stressed the need to transform the country into a knowledge-based economy with diversified overseas markets.

It called for fundamental changes that can allow the country to fully fulfill the country's "Juche ideology" down the line. The ideology based on self-reliance is North Korea's guiding governing philosophy.

The official news wire service added that reforming the economy can help showcase the superiority of the North's economic system to the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, an official at the unification ministry said Pak's entry into the Politburo may be a move to place a person who represents the country's economic sector in a position of responsibility.

"He may have been tapped because he can represent the views of businesses and economists," the official source said. He said that ever since the current leader took office, more power has been concentrated into the WPK.

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