[Outlook]Kim Jong-il’s difficult choiceFirst of all, the agreement reached in the sixth round of six-party talks in Beijing was truly good news. The United States and North Korea made considerable concessions to each other.
China worked fine as mediator, and the Korean envoys took leading roles. The consensus is that the parties involved have overcome a large obstacle in the journey to resolving North Korea’s nuclear issues.
The nations in the talks are calculating what they can gain and what they will lose. When thinking about the Korean Peninsula alone, North Korea benefits most from the deal. As food and energy aid were confirmed, the communist country can solve its immediate internal problems and continue to prolong the regime.
In South Korea, uncertainty caused by North Korea’s nuclear capabilities has decreased, weakening the phenomenon of the “Korea discount,” a term that refers to a depreciation of Korea and its companies.
The South’s aid to the North is expected to resume and exchanges between the two Koreas are likely to increase in pace.
Can we say then that the dark clouds that hovered over the peninsula will be cleared by the accord reached in Beijing? Both optimistic and pessimistic views will be offered as numerous experts on North Korea, scholars of international politics and policy analysts present their own diagnoses.
I believe that North Korea’s complete nuclear disarmament is extremely unlikely, although not completely impossible.
Besides Washington’s hostile policies toward Pyongyang, the main thing working against the North is its own system and ideologies. North Korea is a failed country because it cannot sustain itself. However, the country has survived and even conducted a nuclear test despite forecasts of its collapse, which have been mentioned occasionally since the late 1990s.
The South provided the North with material aid, and China assisted as well. But the North Korean system has survived thanks to internal reasons. The dictatorial country makes it possible to mobilize its people for war at any time.
The juche ideology, which keeps the country closed to the outside world; the military-first policy; and the suppression of the right to choose an ideology are the secrets of the regime’s survival.
North Korea can be summed up as a system of Kim Jong-il, by Kim Jong-il and for Kim Jong-il. Some revisionists were stunned to see the unity and solidity of the communist country.
But one-man rule in North Korea made the system durable and thus contributed a great deal to overcoming crises in the system that have arisen since the late 1990s.
The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, has in some ways succeeded. He made his country a member of the nuclear club despite endless disasters, such as the practical fall of socialism, numerous natural disasters, massive deaths from starvation and two previous nuclear crises. However, his success and total collapse are two sides of the same coin.
In Mr. Kim’s system, his dictatorship and the military oppress the cabinet, causing an overall economic failure. However, the power of the one-man leadership in the North, which goes beyond one’s imagination, has allowed the country to survive financial hardship and even nuclear development.
The problem is that a couple of crude nuclear weapons cannot feed the people and cannot operate factories.
North Korea uses its nukes as bait to forcibly get electric power and food. The country bullies and threatens other nations to maintain its economy.
It is clear that a country cannot be sustained for long if it has no capability to produce on its own, which leads to a parasitic existence. For North Korea’s system to be able to sustain itself, which will allow it to become a normal country, its one-man rule must be revised to implement reforms and open its doors.
On his tour to Shanghai, Pudong and Shenzhen, Mr. Kim admired the development and openness of the cities. However, he cannot fully open the doors because that kind of reform threatens his one-man leadership.
Under these circumstances, army-first politics and nuclear arms are the last fortresses protecting Mr. Kim’s privileges.
It appears as if the North Korean ruler wants to keep his one-man rule, armed with nuclear weapons, and to revive the economy and the people at the same time. However, as long as one-man rule persists, there cannot be room for the economy to work or for the people to breathe. Mr. Kim is in a difficult situation in which his rule must end in order to ensure the survival of his country. That’s why the six-nation talks will likely face numerous high obstacles in the future.
*The writer is a professor of philosophy at Hanshin University.Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yoon Pyung-joong