Jump in when time is rightSouth Korea’s intelligence agency chief confirmed signs of reform in the reclusive North Korean regime under the helm of its young leader Kim Jong-un. Won Sei-hoon, director of the National Intelligence Service, told the National Assembly Intelligence Committee that Pyongyang has organized a task force to reform its rigid state-controlled economic system at the order of Kim, who recently inherited the “Marshal” title of his late father Kim Jong-il. He said the team is working on unifying the economic projects that had been previously led by the party and military under the government, scaling down the cooperative farm workforce, allowing more freedom in corporate management and raising workers’ wages.
Won, however, said the Kim regime remains staunch on socialist principles, predicting limited openings and reforms that may not bring about significant changes.
The under-30-year-old heir has been feeding the world media images of a rare, carefree Western-style public life replete with roller-coaster rides and intimacies with a mysterious young lady who was eventually confirmed to be his wife. He realigned the military by purging his former protector Gen. Ri Yong-ho in case the military resists his economic reforms. His moves are raising expectations that the foreign-educated young leader may bring about long-awaited opening and progressive changes in the impoverished nation.
It may be premature to jump to the conclusion that the North Korea reform experiments, obviously benchmarking the Chinese model of capitalism, will bring about significant changes. China is living proof of the successful outcome of the hybrid economic model. Even if the North adheres to socialist principles in implementing economic reforms, it could have more sustainable results than in previous attempts.
It is a positive sign that the regime is moving to address its economic plight. Reform will inevitably demand opening that would bring the isolated state closer to the international community.
Still, the North remains hostile to the outside world. The regime is well aware that it cannot mend ties with the international community unless it gives up its nuclear weapons program. The changes on the foreign front will depend on the will of the leadership to pursue economic reforms. If the reforms reap little progress because of limited trade with the international community, it will have to come to a decision on its nuclear program. That will be the call for us to jump in. The government should keep a close watch on North Korean developments for new possibilities in establishing peace and co-prosperity. We should be ready to help whenever the time is right.