North stresses self-reliance of its economy

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North stresses self-reliance of its economy

North Korea stressed the autonomy and self-sufficiency of its economy ahead of a party congress that could choose Kim Jong-il’s successor, possibly signaling to China that politics comes first and any moves toward economic reform will take a back seat.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, said in an editorial last Saturday that bequeathing a crippled economy heavily dependent on the outside world to the next generation is a sin.

“Having a critical breakthrough in making the people’s economy self-reliant is the most important task we need to achieve in the area of the economy when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Great Leader,” read the editorial.

The Great Leader refers to Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder and current leader Kim Jong-il’s father, who was born in 1912.

On Tuesday, the state-run Korean Central News Agency confirmed that the long-anticipated Workers’ Party meeting, which was supposed to be held in the first half of September, will be held Tuesday. It’s the first such meeting in 44 years. Analysts have speculated that Kim Jong-il’s youngest son, Jong-un, will be named his successor at the congress, and that other leadership changes will be made to protect the son.

At the same time, China has been encouraging North Korea to reform its economy. Chinese President Hu Jintao was known to have urged the North to adopt its market economy model when Kim Jong-il visited China to meet him last month. Kim was also assumed to be getting China’s approval for his succession plan on that trip.

Some analysts think an impasse with China over economic reform might explain the delay in the rare Workers’ Party meeting. They said North Korea needed time to come up with responses to China’s request to open up its economy.

An Chan-il, a scholar of North Korea who defected from the North in 1979, said the editorial could be a face-saving or delaying tactic, although he thinks the North will eventually follow China’s market policy path.

Other analysts think the meeting was delayed because of Kim’s health.

Radio Free Asia, quoting an unnamed source, reported on Tuesday that Kim often falls asleep against his will and wakes up about five minutes later. This occurs several times a day, Radio Free Asia reported, and may indicate a serious brain problem.

Open Radio for North Korea reported Tuesday that the meeting was delayed because Kim developed a respiratory ailment from stroke-prevention medication, citing a source in Pyongyang.


By Moon Gwang-lip, Lee Young-jong [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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