Kim Jong Un’s North Korea is changing. First, Pyongyang started subtly snubbing China. Then, it started giving soft signals to the West and the rest of the democratic world about its intentions to get over past enmity and negotiate better ties. Now, the North Korean Supreme Leader is giving hints of moving away from Communism itself.
Kim continues to admit that his economic policies have gone wrong. In his recent remarks, Kim made it clear that solving North Korea’s economic problems would be possible only after “breaking with current wrong ideological viewpoint, irresponsible working attitude, incompetence and obsolete working manner.” North Korea has always remained a staunch Communist nation, and Kim’s rule isn’t any exception. His remarks, however, suggest clear intent to break away from traditional Communism.
The reality of the need to change economic policy hasn’t suddenly dawned upon Kim. North Korea’s belligerent attitude and overdependence on China has made Pyongyang highly isolated. The US and other Western powers have debilitated the North Korean economy with sanctions. And then, the pandemic has made North Korea even more isolated.
What Kim has also realised is that with the pandemic, China can no longer sustain the North Korean economy. The Chinese government is finding it hard to sustain even China’s economic growth, leave alone handling North Korea’s problems. In fact, China-North Korea trade slid dramatically last year, which must have convinced North Korea’s Supreme Leader to reshape his economic and foreign policy.
It is in this context that Kim has spoken about international sanctions and the Coronavirus Pandemic, reducing the North Korean government’s ability to improve people’s lives. In fact, under his new five-year plan, Kim is looking to revive the North Korean economy by expanding almost every single industry- metals, chemical production, coal mining, tourism, modernised railways and public transit.
But at the end of the day, the key takeaway from Kim’s remarks this weekend are breaking away from “current wrong ideological viewpoint.” This ought to be interpreted as a desire to open up the North economy. North Korea had shifted away from being a fully centralised system in the 1990s itself and businesses sprung up as the purely State-owned system collapsed.
Yet, it isn’t as if North Korea’s private sector has boobed. After all, Pyongyang remains a purely Communist dispensation. Kim’s repeated admissions about pursuing a wrong economic policy however suggest that he is ready to let private enterprise pull his country out of the economic crisis that it finds itself in.
On the other hand, the North Korean government would never want to lose fundamental State control over its economy. Therefore, Kim also said, “The important tasks… is to restore the state’s leading role and control in the overall commerce service activities and preserve the nature of socialist commerce serving the people.”
The world is changing and North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un seems to be keeping pace with the changing times by thinking of ideological reorientation.