Ho and Kim Jong-un

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Ho and Kim Jong-un

The New York Times published an article entitled “Can North Korea Handle a K-Pop Invasion?” on March 30. It mentioned that Red Velvet, a girl group from South Korea, was part of a cultural delegation that performed in Pyongyang. It also reminded readers that “the South Korean military uses K-pop for psychological warfare, blasting it from loudspeakers in the Demilitarized Zone.

“Defectors from the North have been known to cite K-pop as one of their inspirations for escaping to the South,” it said.

The Times’ question was answered through the performance on April 1. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shook hands with the singers after the performance and took a photo with them. Although the K-pop performance was edited out of broadcasts on the North’s state-run television, allowing the performance was an effective tool in a charm offensive and to demonstrate that North Korea is a normal country.

By proposing an inter-Korean summit for April 27 and a North-U.S. summit later, and having visited China for a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Kim is now sitting in the driver’s seat of Peninsular affairs. But hawks in Washington will not hesitate to take a military option if his willingness for denuclearization is doubted.

On the other hand, Kim will face a new world of diplomatic relations with the United States and economic assistance if he chooses the rational move of a complete dismantlement of his nuclear program. When that happens, the “Doi Moi” style economic reforms of Vietnam will be best suited. It is a model in which the country can maintain socialism as its political system while adopting a market economy. In this case, North Korea can achieve rapid growth by attracting foreign investments and opening up its markets after establishing diplomatic relations with the United States.

Vietnam is a unique country in which the values and principles of Ho Chi Minh are still ruling the nation even after his death. His strong leadership drove out France, its colonial ruler, and won independence. It also won a war against America, the world’s strongest superpower, and fought against China. After introducing the principles of a market economy in the Constitution in 1992, Vietnam forged diplomatic ties with the United States in 1995 to give wings to its economy.

When a nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier enters its port, the Communist Party and the people of Vietnam enthusiastically welcome it. It is the most cooperative country with the United States in Southeast Asia. Ho’s pragmatism allowed the miraculous transformation of Vietnam to check China’s hegemony in the region by cooperating with Uncle Sam.

Ho and Kim both experienced the western world when they were young. Kim, born in 1984, is a basketball fan. During his studies in Switzerland from 1996 to 2001, he wore Chicago Bulls jerseys and Nike basketball shoes on his way to school. He even went to Paris to watch an NBA exhibition game. That is the city where Ho, a young man from a poor colony of France, arrived as a kitchen assistant aboard a ship in 1911 and worked as a gardener for years.

As a Communist revolutionary and laborer, Ho used many different aliases and lived in the United States, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa and he learned the rules of the world. He was fluent in English, Chinese and French and skillful in Thai, Spanish, German and Russian. Kim studied English and German in Switzerland. He even visited Hyderabad, the so-called Silicon Valley of India, in 2007 to attend the Military World Games.

Perhaps thanks to his experience of a broader world, Kim is different from his father, Kim Jong-il. He abandoned the passive ways of operating an economy, a legacy from his father’s era. Yang Hyong-sop, vice chairman of the North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly’s Presidium, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Jan. 17, 2012 — one month after Kim Jong-il’s death — that Kim Jong-un is focusing on a knowledge-based economy and studying economic reforms in other countries, including China. On Jan. 28, 2012, Kim ordered his aides to discuss all methods of economic reform, including capitalist policies.

“It is not a revolution if the people are still poor and miserable after a revolution,” Ho once said. “I cannot sleep at night for not offering ample lives to the people,” Kim has said. If that was his true feeling, there is a possibility that he will follow the pragmatic path of Ho.

In less than a month after declaring the completion of his nuclear weapons technology after the sixth nuclear test on Nov. 29, 2017, Kim said he will establish an economic development district outside Pyongyang to attract foreign investment. The rushed declaration of the completion of nuclear technology indicates his willingness to enter dialogue. After the 1.5-track talks in late March in Helsinki among the two Koreas and the United States, North Korean Foreign Ministry officials reportedly said Kim may make a bold decision to give up nuclear arms if he gets a good reward.

If Kim chooses Vietnam-style reforms, the North will become an attractive place to invest. At the same time, it will be a country friendly to the United States, and will no longer be under the influence of China. It is only a matter of time that a Trump tower will be built in Pyongyang.

But the “wealth and honor with socialism” promised by Kim is impossible to achieve as long as North Korea has nuclear weapons. If Kim makes the determination to completely scrap his nuclear weapons, the next Nobel Peace Prize will goes to Moon Jae-in, Kim and Trump.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 9, Page 31

*The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Lee Ha-kyung
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