North embraces businessThe New Year’s Day joint editorial carried by the North’s state media catches our attention for various reasons. There are still hints of close cooperation between the two Koreas, while Pyongyang also urged against “pro-U.S. sycophancy.” Notably, remarks infringing on the South’s sovereignty and intervening in domestic affairs have disappeared, showing that the overall color of the joint editorial has become more realistic.
In its 2003 message, Pyongyang stated that the situation on the Korean Peninsula was such that the two Koreas were pitted against the United States. Although the North pushed for direct talks with that country, preferably excluding the South, the logic was that when it came time to fight pressure from Washington, both Koreas needed to cooperate and respond. It was an argument of self-contradiction. Last year, it urged the South to fight against the Grand National Party and conservative pro-U.S. elements. There was no consideration for the agreement between the South and the North that specifically forbids intervening in domestic affairs.
This time there was no criticism toward President-elect Lee Myung-bak and his future administration. Instead the North urged the South to fulfill its duties as agreed upon at the summit in October. It was a message that Pyongyang acknowledges the new government and that it wants good inter-Korean economic cooperation.
That the message also stressed an improvement of people’s lives like last year is also a point that hints of an emphasis on the economy. Using a slogan that puts the economic life of the people at the forefront, the North has selected that issue as key to its economic policy.
We feel good about the changes in the North. Nevertheless, there are a couple of things that are hard to understand. First, there was an emphasis on strengthening the defense industry and civilian military. Isn’t it because of the four military policy guidelines adopted in 1962 that the North Korean economy fell into hardship? When it places those things at the top of the budget, how can it improve the lives of its citizens?
We hope that the North succeeds in rebuilding its economy. The new government has the will to implement various aid polices including humanitarian aid. Nevertheless, to make this possible there needs to be progress in the nuclear talks. In addition, the North needs to actively implement reform policies similar to China and Vietnam. Without them “rebuilding the economy” will become just another empty slogan.