How N.Korea Hopes to Turn Its Fortunes Around

      January 03, 2011 07:21

      North Korea is expected to double political, economic and diplomatic efforts to achieve the target of becoming "a powerful and prosperous nation" by 2012, government officials and pundits here say.

      "Given the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and the young age of his heir apparent Kim Jong-un, there is a risk of North Korea making some irrational moves next year," a Unification Ministry official warned. Pyongyang's deadline to achieve power and prosperity is April 15, 2012, the centenary of nation founder Kim Il-sung.

      The North claims it is already strong ideologically due to the "Juche" or self-reliance ideology and militarily due to its nuclear weapons, and that all that remains is to achieve economic strength.

      ◆ Speedy Power Transfer

      "Kim Jong-il, while proclaiming a powerful and prosperous country by 2012, will transfer a considerable part of his power to Kim Jong-un," speculates Lee Jo-won, a professor at Chungang University. Kim junior is expected to make speedy promotions and build up his power base in 2011.

      Currently vice chairman of the Workers Party's powerful National Defense Commission, he may assume a newly-created first vice chairmanship of the commission or even be given the chairmanship now held by Kim senior, according to a staffer with the Institute for National Security and Strategy, an arm of the National Intelligence Service. Party rules stipulate that the Central Military Commission controls the armed forces.

      Kim Jong-un could also assume core posts in the party's Political Bureau and Secretariat. "The North is going to try and elevate the image of Kim Jong-un, who was made four-star general in 2010, from a military leader to a national leader in 2011," says a source familiar with North Korean affairs.

      But the process of blindly pushing ahead with the hereditary succession could weaken Kim Jong-il's own leadership and lead to power struggles and factional strife, confusion in policy making, intensified confrontation with the outside world, and increased public discontent.

      ◆ Economic Stagnation

      Pressured by the need to ensure a safe succession, Pyongyang is likely to avoid any reform and opening in 2011. Grain production next year is estimated at 3.8 million to 3.9 million tons, a decline of 200,000 to 300,000 tons from the already poor figure this year. That makes the goal of economic strength a pipe dream.

      This year the North stressed the production of steel, fiber and cotton. "If it fails to achieve its target of economic growth by 2012, the regime may attempt to camouflage the failure with the claim that it has gained self-reliance in the 'people's economy.'" speculates the North Korea source.

      Meanwhile, the North's reliance on China is going to deepen next year. In 2010, it imported some 283,000 tons of fertilizer from China while talking about self-reliance. The figure is nearly three times the 105,000 tons it imported from China in 2009 because aid from South Korea to the tune of 300,000 tons of fertilizer a year was suspended. In 2009 the North exported no coal to China, but this year it sold US$300 million worth to its sole ally.

      ◆ Nuclear Arms

      In a briefing by the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, President Lee Myung-bak said, "North Korea is aiming to be a powerful and prosperous country by 2012, so we have to make sure it abandons its nuclear ambition next year through the six-party talks." But the nuclear weapons are the only palpable progress the North has made toward its goal. "I see no chance of North Korea abandoning its nuclear program, which is the symbol" of its ambitions, a senior North Korean defector says. This year North Korea for the first time openly threatened the South with a nuclear attack.

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