The North Will Change at Its Own PaceImmediately after German reunification, I made a bet with a fellow professor on when the Korean Peninsula would be reunit ed. He insisted that unification would be rapid, as in Germany. I strongly disagreed. At that time, he was on the presidential adviso ry committee and subscribed to the view of the thenpresident, who took pride in his i.Northern Policy,l, which he believed would contribute to the collapse of the North and bring about ultimate reunification. Unfortunately, his prediction failed.
Recently, President Kim Dae jung confidently predicted that North Korea would rapidly change, opening its doors and beginning reforms early this year. North Korea''s National Defense Commission chairman, Kim Jongil, visited China at the beginning of this year and con cluded that the Chinese reform and opening had been a success. He emphasized that ihall the issues must be resolved from a new per spective in accordance with the new demands resulting from a new generationll in the North. Based on these words, we can raise our bets on the possibility of change in the North.
In fact, North Korea does not have much choice. It has to choose between improving the welfare of its people through opening up as China has done, or continuing to stagnate in a closed and oppressive society. It is clear that the North, unable by its own efforts to break the vicious cycle of destitution, must open its door and enact reforms to attract foreign technol ogy and capital. But the North has delayed its reform and opening because its political leaders make their priority the maintenance of their system rather than the improvement of their people''s economic welfare.
It is highly possible that the North will review the Chinese model of separating politics and the economy and reforming only the latter. But we cannot assume that a visit to Shanghai will inspire Chairman Kim to carry out drastic reform measures in a flash. He probably knows better than any one that Shanghai and Pudong have gone through more than 20 years of reforms to become what they are today and that the invisi ble changes in China''s system and ideology are greater than the visi ble ones. North Korean leaders, unlike the Chinese, do not approach change confidently. The North cannot deal with the South in the same manner that China embraces developed Taiwan. Therefore, the North''s imita tion of the Chinese model will most likely stop short of adopting drastic or even practical reform policies. The North may plan to attract foreign capital and technol ogy by partly opening some areas such as Kaesong, Shinuiju and Wonsan.
As President Kim has suggest ed, we should thoroughly prepare for the North''s changes. Rather than simply providing material support, we should focus on how to trigger practical and systemic changes in the North. We should inform the North that China''s suc cess does not simply depend on establishing several free economic zones. We should help the North to realize the importance of the mar ket and the need to change its sys tem and that having skyscrapers and attracting foreign companies are secondary concerns. We should accurately inform the North about the harsh discipline of international markets and help it seek aid from international organ izations.
Yet we should not be too eager to bring change in the North by ourselves. The higher our expecta tions, the more the North is encouraged to overrate its reforms and present them as a benefit to the South and a source of leverage in interKorean negotiations and U.S. North Korea talks. As the prediction of the former president that the North would soon collapse went wrong, I hope President Kim''s forecast that the North will reform may be realized. But we should not get carried away. Rather, let us carry out calm and practical preparation to seek mutual benefits.
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?