Is substantial change truly afoot in North Korea? Does anyone really know at this point?
Anyone who claims to have a real handle on what is happening north of the 38th Parallel must be discounted since literally few people in the world seem to have an accurate understanding.
But as professional and amateur North Korea watchers pick through the rumors, something indeed seems to be happening – albeit, we have been wrong in our assumptions about the DPRK too many times to recount.
While I was away from Korea this summer, stories and rumors circulated that the Kim III has stepped away from Military First (Seon-gun) policies and taken back economic controls from the military. There was even a rumor of a fire fight as the military initially resisted this change. The obvious question is whether Kim Jeong-eun has the political and military wherewithal to accomplish anything similar to these rumors at this early stage of his regime.
But if much what we hear is true, an admittedly unreliable straight line analysis may suggest that young Kim could shake up the Korean peninsula in the coming years. As a professional Korean watcher has privately fantasized, Jeong-eun could lose weight, eventually adopt a more modern hairstyle and attire, speak in flawless English and come across as a young, 21st century Korean leaders for both Koreas – accomplishing more with liberated economic policies and diplomacy than his grandfather and father even approximated.
Should such a fantasy be realized, South Korean politicians will be severely challenged. The open question would be as to how much would North Korea be a kinder, gentler entity — as opposed to how much does Pyongyang remain committed to ultimate domination of the peninsula via a completely new set of tactics while allowing the underlying strategy to remain essentially unchanged.
As always, the one thing we can safely assume is that we have some fascinating years ahead of us.
Below are a local news report, an editorial by the Korea JoongAng Daily and an overall assessment by The Economist.
North changing its economic model: Sources
Pyongyang is reportedly allowing people to run businesses, set prices
북한, 경제 개방? 심상치 않은 변화가…
By Lee Young-jong, Kim Hee-jin
Korea JoongAng Daily
Riding the positive wave
Local authorities are mixed in their responses to the North Korean leader’s highly publicized moves. Some see them as positive signs for opening, while others are reserved.
by Bae Myung-bok
Korea JoongAng Daily
Where the sun sinks in the east
With a decrepit economy, and now devastating floods, a closed regime shows signs of greater openness—though not to everyone
Aug 11th 2012