Finding a breakthrough

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Finding a breakthrough

“Kim Xiaoping” is a term combining the names of Kim Jong-un and Deng Xiaoping. Similarly, “Pyonghattan” refers to Pyongyang meeting Manhattan, an upscale neighborhood in New York.

European journalists have created these terms in response to the market economy’s spread into North Korea. At least, that’s how they are interpreting Kim Jong-un’s move and the economic changes inside North Korea.

There have been rumors since 2010 that Kim aspires to be North Korea’s answer to Deng Xiaoping. The country has drawn a frame around each of its leaders: Kim Il Sung is credited with founding the nation, Kim Jong-il was integral in boosting defense and Kim Jong-un has focused on the economy. And Deng is a perfect role model.

Just like Deng, the young leader studied in Europe early on and likes to take risks. While studying in France, Deng learned about global development trends and had a chance to observe the industrial development of a modern nation. Kim did the same in Switzerland.

Just as Deng experimented with reform in China’s four special districts in the late 1970s, Kim has established five central special economic zones and 19 regional economic development districts since 2013. But Kim has not been as successful for two reasons. Fear dominates the mood domestically, and North Korea’s ties with the United States aren’t improving.

Deng believed the domestic situation should be stable in order to attract foreign investment and technology. So he tried not to give the impression to the Chinese people and the outside world that a power struggle was in progress. At the same time, he wanted to join hands with America. Deng knew that Korea, Japan and Taiwan had largely relied on U.S. technology, science, capital and education in the course of successfully modernizing.

Kim also wants to follow Deng’s path. During the celebration in October marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean Workers’ Party, he mentioned “people” 97 times in his address and advocated a people-first policy. More recently, he has pursued a peace treaty with the United States. But if Deng was a professional, Kim is an amateur. Just as the cancellation of the Moranbong Band’s performance in China illustrates, Kim is not as flexible and accommodating. And he does not have close aides by his side who can give advice on his reign of terror.

Ironically, this situation is favorable to Korea. If the Moranbong Band performance had warmed relations between North Korea and China, then South Korea’s economic territory in North Korea would have shrunk. But as South Korea neglects the North, it has also been studying and preparing. If inter-Korean relations see no further improvement, the only economic territory left for the South would be the Kaesong Industrial Complex. To revitalize the Korean economy, we need a breakthrough in ties.

The author is a researcher at the Unification

Research Institute, JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 21, Page 34

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