Looking Back on Kim Jong Un’s First Year: North Korea Has Grown Even More Grim
April 15, 2013
NKnet released the following statement today.
During an April 15th parade commemorating Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday last year, Kim Jong Un promised that he would “make sure the people will never have to tighten their belts again,” and that “the country will now begin the journey to becoming an economic power.” To the outside world, these statements sparked anticipation that Kim Jong Un would attempt to implement reform and opening in the country.
A year has now passed since Kim Jong Un gained power, but the North Korean domestic and foreign situation is reaching new lows. The regime has conducted a number of provocative actions, including the launch of a long-range rocket and a third nuclear test, that have furthered worsened the country’s isolation from the international community. Domestically, the worsening shortage of food has led to reports from Hwanghae and Gangwon provinces that an increasing number of people are dying from starvation.
During the past year, the regime has placed substantial efforts in securing Kim Jong Un’s “monolithic leadership” (유일적 리더십). On top of extensive efforts to justify the succession process through idolization of the new leader, the regime has aimed to strengthen internal cohesion by creating an atmosphere of war both at home and abroad. Soon after gaining power last year, Kim Jong Un launched a missile and placed a clause in the North Korean constitution proclaiming the country had become a nuclear state. During the last several months, the regime has continued a policy of brinkmanship by launching a long-range missile, conducting a third nuclear test and shutting down the Kaesong Joint Industrial Complex.
Concerned that North Koreans will turn away from the regime due to their difficult economic situation and hunger, Kim Jong Un has now introduced an “equal emphasis policy” for nuclear and economic development (핵-경제 병진노선). Early last year, Kim Jong Un appeared to be moving toward economic reforms by expanding economic exchanges with China and by announcing measures to improve the economy on June 28 (6.28 신경제개선 조치). However, these developments lacked any substance, and the back-and-forth nature of the regime’s economic policies led to market stagnation and a rise in both commodity prices and the currency exchange rate. The North Korean economy has further become paralyzed due to the continued military exercises occurring over the last three months.
The Kim Jong Un regime is in the midst of a two-pronged attempt to strengthen the regime’s power base through military provocations and implementing economic reform, but the contradictory nature of the two policy directions does not bode well for its success. Ultimately, Kim Jong Un will decide whether North Korea will remain a desperately poor country isolated because of military provocations or one that implements bold economic reforms so “the people will never have to tighten their belts again.” Having experienced the outside world, Kim Jong Un will have a good idea of how to halt the legacy of poverty, control and oppression that has continued since the days of his grandfather.
As he spends April 15 surrounded by deceitful propaganda, Kim Jong Un will have to think long and hard about the fate of himself and North Korea, particularly the fact that North Koreans should be able to enjoy the freedom and abundance that he himself enjoyed in Switzerland. If he continues making the wrong decisions, neither the North Korean people nor the international community will have the patience to wait for him.
April 15, 2013
The Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights