North Korea’s Kim stands at an important crossroads 10 years after rule


Seoul, South Korea (AP) — Too young. It’s too weak. Too inexperienced.

Kim Jong Un has dispelled widespread suspicions of his early attempts to expand his family’s brutal dynasty control over North Korea since taking power following the sudden death of his father 10 years ago. left.

Early predictions about the regency, group leadership, or military coups were crushed by an estimated hundreds of executions and purges of families and old guards. Its ruthless integration of powers allows Kim to reveal his authority is absolute, with a greater personality than what appears to have been made for carefully packaged television promotion. I made it.

But when North Korea’s first millennial dictator marks a decade of domination this Friday, he may be facing the toughest moments ever. If Kim cannot support his promise to develop both a nuclear weapon and a dying economy, what many experts consider impossible can cause problems for his long-term control.

International sanctions have been strengthened since 2016, when Kim accelerated the pursuit of nuclear weapons and missiles targeting the United States and its Asian allies, following moderate economic growth achieved over the years through trade and market-oriented reforms. rice field.

After being in the global spotlight at a summit meeting with former US President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019, Kim is now trapped in his home as he tackles the economic downturn worsened by pandemic-related border closures. I am.

Negotiations with Washington have been stalled for more than two years after he was unable to win the terribly needed sanctions bailout from Trump. President Joe Biden’s administration does not appear to rush to close the deal unless he has indicated his intention to end the nuclear weapons program, the “treasure sword” that Kim considers to be his greatest guarantee of survival.

Kim is still in control, but it seems less likely that he will achieve his stated goal of maintaining nuclear weapons and bringing prosperity to the poor. Kim presented this goal in his first speech as a leader in early 2012, vowing that North Koreans “never need to fasten their belts again.”

Park Won-gon, a professor of Korean studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said that depending on how Kim treats the economy in the coming years, the long-term stability of his rule and perhaps his family’s dynasty. He said that the future of the country could be decided.

“The nuclear weapons program, the economy, and the stability of the regime are all interrelated. If the nuclear issue is not resolved, the economy will not improve and it may cause anxiety and turmoil in North Korean society.”

Kim urgently needs to abolish US-led sanctions to build an economy. The economy has also been damaged by decades of mismanagement and aggressive military spending.

But unless Kim takes concrete steps towards denuclearization, meaningful US bailouts may not come. Despite pursuing a summit, Mr. Trump showed no interest in sanctions. This shows that Washington controls Pyongyang, and it is unclear whether Kim will be actively involved with North Korea like Trump with another US president.

Their diplomacy, after the second summit in February 2019, calls for Americans to drastically eliminate sanctions in exchange for the dismantling of dilapidated nuclear facilities, which is equivalent to a partial abandonment of nuclear capabilities. It collapsed when it refused Korea’s request.

Both sides have not met publicly since the failure of a follow-up meeting among working-level officials in October of that year. Two months later, at a domestic political conference, Kim vowed to further expand nuclear weapons in the face of “gang-like” US pressure and to remain resilient in the struggle for economic independence. Prompted to.

However, the global COVID-19 crisis is Kim’s main economic goal by forcing the country to voluntarily block trade with China, its only major ally and economic lifeline. Interfered with some of the.

South Korean espionage agencies recently told parliamentarians that North Korea’s annual trade with China had fallen by two-thirds to $ 185 million by September 2021. It has accelerated the spread of water-borne diseases such as typhoon fever, officials said.

Negotiations with the United States are at a loss. The Biden administration, whose withdrawal from Afghanistan emphasized a broader shift in U.S. focus on counterterrorism operations and confrontation with China from so-called rogue states such as North Korea and Iran, offers more than free talk. I have not.

North Korea has so far rejected the overture, saying it must abandon the “hostile policies” that North Korea mainly uses to refer to sanctions and US-Korea military exercises.

“North Korea has no intention of abandoning its nuclear weapons,” said Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul. “The only topic they are willing to discuss is not the dream of denuclearization, but the issue of arms control.”

But Kim could benefit from the Washington-Beijing conflict, which increases North Korea’s strategic value to China, Lankov said. China is trying to bring North Korea to the fore by expanding food, fuel and other aid. It reduces the pressure on Mr Kim to negotiate with the United States.

“Instead of growth, North Korea will stagnate, but it will not be a serious crisis,” Lankov said. “For Kim Jong Un and his elite, it’s an acceptable compromise.”

North Korea has taken proactive steps to strengthen state control over the economy amid a pandemic border closure. This rolls back Kim’s previous reforms, which embraced private investment and allowed state-owned enterprises and factories more autonomy and market incentives to promote domestic production and trade.

There are also signs that North Korean authorities are curbing the use of the US dollar and other foreign currencies in the market, which seems to reflect concerns about the depletion of foreign exchange reserves.

Restoring central economic control could also be important for Kim to mobilize national resources to further expand its nuclear program.

Kim suspended testing of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles for three years, but stepped up testing of short-range weapons that threatened US allies South Korea and Japan.

“Nuclear weapons have involved Kim in this turmoil, but he maintains a paradoxical policy of pushing further and out of it,” said Go Myung-hyun, a senior analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. ..

“The US-led sanctions system remains, and the return to the state economy is not the answer of North Korea in the past, not the answer of the present. At some point, Kim faces a difficult choice as to how long he will hold nuclear weapons. It will, and it may happen relatively soon, “Go added.