[Viewpoint] If I were Kim’s economic adviser...On my way home, I feel the weight of the notes and briefing papers I have been carrying around for days. Today, like all the days before, these notes failed to see daylight. I’ve spent an awful lot of time on them, trying to come up with solutions to the mess that is the North Korean economy. The full report, thick as a brick, sits on my desk and the summary is in my breast pocket. I’ve almost memorized it, a long and short version, and I’m just awaiting my chance to present it.
But although I meet Dear Leader Kim Jong-il almost every day, the economy is never addressed. The leader is fully preoccupied with the Cheonan issue. All party and government meetings are on that subject. Our generals go livid, lashing out with inflammatory rhetoric, for South Korea’s intolerable behavior in the wake of our alleged torpedo attack on one of their warships. It’s not the time to start talking economics. They would probably sneer at me for being blase.
My heart is heavy with frustration. The military is a pitiful lot. We have only a year and half left to accomplish building an economically prosperous and powerful state the chairman of the Defense Commission promised at the beginning of the year. What were they thinking when they decided to sneak into South Korean waters and torpedo one of its patrol boats? Don’t they have any care for our economy?
In the New Year’s address, the chairman pledged to improve the lives of our people. But the economy has gone from bad to worse. Our chairman went to Beijing to assure them that we are not involved in the Cheonan sinking, but China doesn’t seem to be buying it completely. Even the tone of Beijing’s comments on the Cheonan affair has changed recently. Our other ally, Russia, has sent its own inspectors down to Seoul to examine the evidence themselves. The situation is not going well at all.
If China and Russia both turn their backs on us, our plans to attract foreign capital through the establishment here of the Taepung International Investment Group earlier this year will hardly pan out as the capital is supposed to come from them. Companies from our blood brother China may shelve investment plans to see how the situation unfolds. Who would want to place valuable money or provide loans to such an unreliable regime?
The South has now halted all trade exchanges. We are in dire need of cash, yet we threw income worth billions of dollars out the window. There isn’t a window left to discuss new business ventures.
We muddled by through the years mostly by relying on investments and aid from China and South Korea. How will we manage from now on? If we fail on the economy, the onus will be on me. I cannot help but feel resentment toward the military. It has ruined the economy for its own self-interest.
The South’s action is also disappointing. After all these years, don’t they know us yet? Their psychological warfare will be of no use. We would have collapsed long ago if our people had been moved by any propaganda campaign. The military has always resorted to force when the South wounds our “supreme dignity.” Our leader is a kind of deity. The military won’t stand it if the man at the pinnacle of power is challenged. The South’s rhetorical attacks will only provoke the military and reinforce the stature of hard-line forces in the leadership.
But I cannot sit around lamenting forever. My job is to tend to the economy for the sake of our impoverished people - and to save my own neck. But our economic problems cannot be resolved without a breakthrough in the Cheonan predicament. And that depends on the will of our leader.
In fact, that’s why I wrote up the report. I laid out such measures as a reduction in the collective farming system, an increase in incentives and corporate freedom, and trade specialization. But my precondition for those measures was to punish the people culpable for sinking the Cheonan.
I practiced my words, especially my conclusion: “The creation of a strong and prosperous nation will be the chairman’s biggest accomplishment. To achieve such a goal, we need capital, which we cannot gain without the help of China and South Korea. The leader must punish the reckless action by a few members of the military. Only in this way will the crisis abate and can we hope to salvage the economy. The leader has admitted mistakes in the past, such as the failure of the currency revaluation and the kidnapping of Japanese citizens. Credibility is the bedrock of an economy and unpredictability its biggest enemy. We must restore credibility and wipe out the unpredictable factors. Otherwise, our plans to build a strong nation will never materialize. Dear Leader, you must set your eyes further to the future.”
But I murmur these words into thin air. Maybe I am too cowardly to face the military or lose my position. I feel the notes in my pocket and I flush with embarrassment. My only comfort is that all of the chairman’s other aides must feel exactly as I do.
*The writer is a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
By Cho Dong-ho