[COLUMN] Outside world needs careful strategy to open up N. Korea

Lim Chang-won Reporter Posted : 2018-06-11 09:48 Updated : 2018-06-11 09:48
글씨작게 글씨크게

Singapore officials greet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at an airport ceremony. [Courtesy of the Singapore government]

SEOUL -- North Korea's diplomacy has been hectic. During the pre-preparatory process, North Korea announced its intention to accept the summit with the United States. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Dalian before holding inter-Korean summits. All of this was aimed at confirming the North's commitment to denuclearization ahead of the summit in Singapore.

As a result, the prospect of inter-Korean economic cooperation has brightened and the atmosphere in South Korea got more encouraging. After Kim's visit to China, experts have carefully cited the possibility of North Korea's reform and opening, suggesting the situation in North Korea is very similar to China's in 1978.

It is the logic that China took action suddenly after emphasizing the construction of socialist modernization at all times without mentioning the word 'reform and opening'. North Korea repeatedly emphasized the construction of socialist modernization last year and this year. Like China, North Korea is seeking to improve relations with the United States.

Such analysis ignores remarkable differences between the two countries. At the time in China, there were Deng Xiaoping and his will to open. The openness of North Korea will be proportional to denuclearization which means unlimited inspections. Deng's commitment to reform and openness was firmly established. His will has been suggested since the failure of the 1958 campaign. Since then, he has been purged three times for arguing that the 'market factor' should be added to the planned economy.

Deng emphasized the importance of the market once more after he was reinstated in 1975, but the words of reform and openness appeared in the 1980s. Instead, he used 'internal reform' and 'external opening' from 1975. The meaning of reform was melted in 'order', 'reconstruction' and 'construction of a new system'. Reform was first mentioned in a document that introduced the need for political reform in August 1980. Openness was explained by 'inflow and attraction' and 'export and import expansion'. The word 'open policy' was officially used in October 1978.

The fact that North Korea is not willing to open was proved again at the dismantlement of the Punggye nuclear facility last month. Foreign journalists attended the event, but international inspectors were not invited. If North Korea had a willingness to reform and open up, the nuclear crisis would not have happened. The situation today is not much different from when it rejected nuclear inspections in the 1990s.

If North Korea wanted to reform and open up, it would have been possible in the era of Kim Jong-il, the founder of a law on reform in 1984, who took new economic reform measures by taking market factors into account. From 2010 until his death in 2011, he had been involved in a joint project with China to open the northwestern border area. In 2013, North Korea unilaterally ended the project. What is clear is that Kim Jong-un does not intend to open up even to China.

North Korea's reform and openness should not be viewed as a matter of sanctions. Even if sanctions are lifted, the North's will is ultimately the key. Nuclear inspections and economic cooperation are possible only when North Korea opens its entire territory and guarantees transparency and freedom.

Under such circumstances, there should be no random offensive on a 'new market' in North Korea. Nor is it because reform and openness violate the Juche idea. It is not a shortage of apparatus to ensure the security of the regime. Of course, if the external environment supports this through improved relations with the United States, it will be more exciting. But in the end, the clue is in Kim's will and whether or not he is willing to engage in a power struggle. China, Vietnam, and Singapore all followed a power struggle. Kim will not be able to afford it yet.

We need a new strategy to open up North Korea. It's not going to be a forced one. Do not think North Korea does not know about the positive effect of reform and opening up. The bolt bursts because of the small hole. In a very small work, there must be a reliable turning point. That's why China chose a strategy to develop a remote island in the border with North Korea. We must remind us how the Berlin Wall has collapsed.

This column was contributed by Choo Jae-woo, a professor of Chinese foreign policy at Kyung Hee University's Department of Chinese Studies.