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Analysis: Kim Jong Il, the reformer?

North Korea is where Vietnam and China were before they started major market overhauls.

Not every foreigner who has had firsthand economic dealings with North Korea is convinced the recent events constitute that trigger. Some worry that U.S.-led sanctions could nip any flowering of capitalism in the bud.

“The problem is still U.S. Treasury’s attitude,” said one such foreigner, who asked not to be identified further. Treasury Department officials began working several years ago to take North Korea “out of the international banking system,” discouraging trade, he noted.

Some U.S.-sponsored sanctions subsequently were eased in an effort to persuade Kim Jong Il to negotiate away his nuclear weapons capability, but after those talks went nowhere — and especially after North Korea allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship earlier this year — enthusiasm for compromise cooled. Recent reports say Washington is moving toward aggressively strangling cash flow into the country.

There is also the argument that Kim believes he cannot afford to reform the economy because it would let in information and influences that would undermine his family’s rule by letting his isolated subjects learn that the rival South Korean system works much better.

According to Abt, one answer to both concerns could be China, which “will provide all the support necessary to the DPRK party and government to enable economic reforms without regime change.” He used the abbreviation of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the country’s official name. “The DPRK may expect support from other quarters, for example, the European Union, too,” he said.

“I think the dilemma of the leadership — economic upsurge versus the inflow of ‘subversive’ system-destabilizing information and ideas, particularly regarding the South — can be overcome with the necessary Chinese support,” Abt said. “Though the division of Korea can only be compared with that of Germany before 1990, China's division — capitalist Hong Kong, capitalist Taiwan — was a sort of challenge to Deng Xiaoping and successors, too, but they learnt to manage that quite well.”

Bradley K. Martin is the author of "Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/worldview/100623/north-korea-economy-kim-jong-il