North Korea’s only choiceThe official announcements by Pyongyang and Beijing following Kim Jong-il’s latest visit to China showed a big gap in their interpretations of the significance of a summit meeting between Kim and President Hu Jintao. The Korean Central News Agency, the North Korean government’s official mouthpiece, said that Hu expressed his hope for a successful staging of North Korea’s Workers’ Party Representatives Meeting slated for early September, while Kim stressed that a friendly relationship between the two countries should be maintained and strengthened generation after generation.
On the other hand, China’s state-controlled Xinhua news agency said that Hu emphasized the need to facilitate economic exchanges and strategic communication between two countries, while Kim expressed his appreciation for China’s economic achievements since its opening and reform.
Such different perspectives explicitly reveal what each side wants from the other. North Korea hopes China will give solid support to its power succession plan, while China wants North Korea to follow in its footsteps by opening and reforming its economy, along with denuclearization. Though both countries seem to say what the other wants to hear, there is actually a big difference in what they really want of each other. While North Korea expects whole-hearted support from China, China considers reform, opening and denuclearization as preconditions for assistance.
North Korea regards nuclear weapons as a prerequisite for its own security, as its leaders believe there is no other way to maintain their extremely closed, authoritarian regime. But it’s the worst choice because the North’s isolation from international society has deepened and its pain is worsening day by day.
After the two countries’ announcements, the U.S. government said it will toughen economic sanctions against North Korea. Although our two previous administrations provided hefty support to the North, the current one has no intention of following such a policy, which is shared by all other countries in the world except Cuba and Iran.
The only way forward for North Korea is to pursue economic development through reform and opening as China and Vietnam did.
North Korean leaders may think their regime will collapse if they open up their country. But such a worry is groundless as evidenced by China and Vietnam, which had the same anxiety but have built prospering countries as a result. Moreover, North Korea faces a more advantageous environment because the six-party talks are already there to provide support to the North - economically or in security - as long as it changes its ways. North Korea should think again.