Opening up North Korea’s society is “a completely bleak problem” because citizens “have been deprived of any tools that they need, education, information, sharing tools,” according to Suki Kim, author of Without You, There Is No Us.
“It’s not a system that they can moderate. The Great Leader can’t be moderated. You can’t be a little bit less god. The Great Leader system has to break. But it’s impossible to imagine,” she told The Intercept.
She added: “I guess it has to happen in pouring information into North Korea in whatever capacity. But then the population are abused victims of a cult ideology. Even if the Great Leader is gone, another form of dictatorship will take its place. Every path is a catastrophe. I’d love to offer up solutions but everything leads to a dead end.”
Since ascending to power five years ago, Mr Kim has openly put economic growth at the heart of his agenda, alongside the development of nuclear weapons — a dual-track policy known as the “byungjin line”, The FT adds:
The reforms, which have led to a boom in de facto private enterprises, have been almost entirely implemented informally, with little mention in the state media. Mr Kim cannot be seen to question the ideological legacy of his father and grandfather — the previous leaders who both decried the free market — for fear of raising questions about his own position, says Andrei Lankov, a prominent Seoul-based academic who lived in Pyongyang.
“Kim Jong Un has decided to do something his father was afraid of — he has started introducing significant elements of the market economy,” adds Prof Lankov. “He has basically said it is OK now to do business, but that does not mean liberalising politics.”
He showed, for example, that the United States and South Korea might have to airlift 7,500 tons of food a day to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. He also has identified the North Korean elite as the real gatekeepers of their country’s future, a powerful and privileged class that must be convinced it will not face ruin—or summary execution—without Kim there to protect them.
“[W]e just have to figure out what is the long-term play for getting the regime to change and to help the human rights situation in North Korea,” says David Kang, Director of the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California.
In effect, Mr Kim is taking early steps to implement the sort of [Market-Leninist] model followed in recent decades by both China and Vietnam, which have promoted growth through market reforms while maintaining tight political control, The FT contends.
“North Korea has gone from a very tightly controlled state socialist economy to basically a marketising economy,” says Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea, a group which helps scores of people defect every year (above). “It may be two steps forward, one step back, but it seems in the long run it will be very difficult to truly repress and move back to a state-run economy.”