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North Korea: Squaring the circle

  • AUTHORFan Jishe,
  • Nov 25, 2014

In 2013, he made a New Year's address, something his father never did in 17 years in power. At a plenary meeting of the Workers' Party Central Committee in March of that year, he announced North Korea would adopt "a new strategic line on carrying out economic construction and building nuclear armed forces simultaneously."

In comparison with his father's "military first" policy, Kim Jong-un seemed to shift North Korea's limited resources more towards the economy. He even invested much energy in economic development, rhetorically at least.

Is North Korea's economy and the daily life of ordinary people better under Kim Jong-un's leadership? In the absence of official statistics, we may never know. "You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out." For North Korea observers, being patient has much merit.

For sure, he is as tough or even tougher than his father. While some officials were promoted to a higher position, others, some close confidants of his father, were either demoted or disappeared. His uncle Jang Sung-taek was executed.

North Korea has twice launched a space satellite since the young Kim took power. The first one was launched immediately after the United States and North Korea had reached a deal which the Americans hoped would revive the six-party talks. These hopes were further dimmed when North Korea threatened the United States with a "pre-emptive nuclear attack" and arrested American tourists.

North Korea also withdrew from the 1953 Korean War armistice commission, cut off hotlines with South Korea, fired many short-range missiles, pledged to restart the dormant nuclear reactor in Bonbon, and upgraded its main rocket-launch site. The second satellite launch and then the third nuclear test invited another round of strict unilateral and multilateral sanctions, and furthered Pyongyang's isolation from the international society. The relationship between China and North Korea hasn't been in good shape ever since, either.

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