North Korea has been paying lip service to reforms in China and Vietnam in recent days. The president of North Korea's rubberstamp parliament on Tuesday expressed hope that Vietnam will share its experience in socioeconomic construction and development. Kim Yong-nam was speaking in a meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in Hanoi.
The English-language Viet Nam News on Wednesday quoted Kim as saying, "The achievements the country had made in socioeconomic development and national construction were an encouragement to [North Korea] in its national construction and development process."
That could mean the North wishes to emulate Vietnam's "Doi Moi" reform policy launched in 1986.
Earlier, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, meeting with senior Chinese apparatchik Wang Jiarui on Aug. 2, made a rare reference to China's 12th five-year plan for national economic and social development and its longer-term vision of achieving a society where most people are middle class. The North Korean Workers Party's goal, too, "is to achieve economic development and improve people's livelihood."
Prof. Cho Dong-ho of Ewha Womans University commented, "Kim Jong-un urgently needs to build a prosperous nation if he is to legitimize his rule and win people's support, and the only way to do that is through foreign investment and technology, for which the North needs to learn from the experience of China and Vietnam.”
Kim Jong-un put forth a new development plan on June 28, sources say.
In a session of the National Assembly's Intelligence Committee on July 27, the National Intelligence Service said the plan includes downscaling the work units at cooperative farms; giving more autonomy to factories and enterprises; and transferring economic projects monopolized by the party and the military to the Cabinet.
Radio Free Asia reported on Thursday that lectures about the plan have been held throughout North Korea since Monday. It said North Korea has virtually abandoned the planned economy and ration system. Now only workers at state agencies and in the educational and medical sectors are receiving rations, according to reports.
But a Unification Ministry official said this is unlikely. "The economic improvement plans are aimed at consolidating the current regime," he said. "It is unlikely to abandon the planned economy or the rationing system, which could lead to its own collapse."
It is clear that the regime has taken some steps toward reform and opening since Kim Jong-un took power after former leader Kim Jong-il's death last December.
A South Korean security official speculated, "Former Army chief Ri Yong-ho, a military hardliner who was purged on July 15, strongly opposed economic reforms. All this shows that Kim Jong-un has completed a six-month-long housecleaning campaign."
But a South Korean government source said, "Not a single word uttered by Kim Jong-un and Kim Yong-nam has been reported in the North Korean media. What they said was a smoke screen for foreigners to solicit outside aid, but they have no intention to reform and open up."
In a report to the National Assembly last month, the NIS speculated, "The regime will implement no fundamental reform and open-door policies given Kim Jong-un's pledge to stick to the socialist principles."