[Viewpoint] New sun rising in the North

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[Viewpoint] New sun rising in the North

The curtains have closed on the first decade of the 21st century. The next decade will likely bring forth a dramatic change for North Korea.

The country’s ailing leader, Kim Jong-il, is expected to name one of his sons as successor.

When state founder Kim Il Sung died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1994, the younger Kim commandeered omnipotent power in orderly fashion.

The “beloved general” had been commanding the military and running the country before the official crown was handed down, but absolute power and party leadership nevertheless remained with his father.

The succession, however, would naturally have taken place even if the elder Kim hadn’t died.

Kim Jong-il, under the auspices of eternal leader Kim Il Sung, precipitated sweeping changes in the social structure and elite community of the socialist state under the banner of a “painful march” to eliminate those disloyal to him.

He consolidated his authoritative power by rewriting the Constitution twice to support his “military-first policy” and engineering scientific, foreign and economic campaigns to mold the country as he saw fit.

Trumpeting “kangsong taeguk,” or an ideologically and militarily powerful state, he drove the country harder, reinforcing autocratic and centralized systems as well as military power.

Developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles therefore was instrumental to justify and empower the Kim family’s regime. The country defied international warnings and resolutions, detonating nuclear devices and launching long-range missiles in an effort to show that the regime is stronger than ever.

Having passed the consolidation stage, the regime is now focused on maintaining and sustaining power. This year, the country will work specifically to rebuild the economy.

North Korea is now introducing a self-made, socialist centralized order to reshape the economy.

The recent move to revamp the country’s currency is just one example of how this new economic campaign is playing out.

The monetary revaluation that wiped out two zeroes from its currency will hamper individual market practices and wealth-building, restoring and strengthening the centralized system. On the trade front, the country is expected to drum up dollar-generated shipments.

Kim recently made an appearance at a trade firm and stressed the need for strengthened external trade to help foster a stronger economy.

The country inevitably will have to open its borders and ports in order to lift external trade.

However, it will likely keep a low profile in doing so, making the most of existent trade platforms, such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The country’s leadership will also likely step out of its shell a bit to improve ties with the international community to create a better trade environment.

All these actions will help to whip the warhorse into shape before the next heir mounts it.

But if his health allows, the second hereditary leader won’t hand over all the titles to his son while he is alive. The succession could also take place surreptitiously while Kim remains the leader publicly.

In whatever form they take, changes are peeking up over the North Korean horizon, and we must be alert and fully ready to grasp them when they arrive.


*The writer is a senior fellow at the Korea Institute of National Unification.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Chung Young-tae
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