|In Pyongyang, evidence of a brighter life for some can be found in everyday sights such as the colorful fashion sense of a group of schoolgirls or the novelty of brightly lit amusement parks. (Marialaura De Angelis/Global Asia)|
Speculation following the surprise execution in December of Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, that the move signaled instability in the country’s political leadership and a possible turn away from economic reform was misguided, according to findings in the latest issue of Global Asia, a Seoul-based quarterly journal published by the East Asia Foundation.
In a series of eight articles under the theme “Dark and Mysterious: How Kim Jong-un Is Reforming North Korea,” scholars and journalists lay out a series of arguments that underscore not only Kim’s firm grip on leadership, but also his apparent determination to move forward with economic reforms.
“It is perhaps wishful thinking on the part of some observers of North Korea to conclude that Jang’s purge and execution was a sign of a deeper power struggle in Pyongyang that could even eventually herald the beginning of the end for the regime,” said Moon Chung-in, editor-in-chief of Global Asia.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. As grim and distasteful as the news was of Jang’s execution, a closer analysis of the circumstances leading up to it point to Kim Jong-un being very much in charge and apparently determined to find a path to economic reform and development.”
Moon added that a major conclusion of Global Asia’s portrait of North Korea under Kim is that the young leader was far more extensively groomed to succeed his father than many outside observers thought, and his style of leadership ― actively involving various organs of the party in a deliberately collective approach to ruling ― has led to a consolidation of power far faster than expected.
The journal examines the implications of this for inter-Korean relations, North Korea-China relations, the prospects of the six party talks, socio-economic changes underway in the country and North Korea’s new policy of pursuing nuclear arms and economic development simultaneously as the nation’s top priority.
It also includes an analysis of the differences for the international community in dealing with North Korea compared to Iran.
North Korea’s path to economic reform will involve an expansion of the special economic zones the country has already created, according to Global Asia.
“There are two competing models of SEZs vying for dominance ― with a third in the wings ― and it is the clash between these alternatives that has underpinned some of the recent turbulence within North Korea’s leadership,” writes longtime North Korean observer Glyn Ford, the founder and director the consultancy POLINT. “The first model looks to the example of China, while the second to South Korea. The choices made will be crucial to Pyongyang’s future. Both offer opportunities and pose threats.”