The dilemma may further deepen as the North is likely to face a “serious” shortage of food, caused by this year’s severe droughts, lack of international aid and sanctions over its nuclear and missile development, according to the 2016 forecast by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
“As the side effect of the serious droughts, there may be a severe food shortage and a variety of social problems (arising from the crisis),” the institute said in its forecast released to the press on Tuesday.
“We cannot rule out an emergency situation such as the second ‘Arduous March’ although the level of the (food) crisis would be lower than what the North went through in the mid-1990s.”
The Arduous March refers to a serious famine that struck the communist country in the mid-1990s. The famine, which is thought to have killed some 2 million people, was caused by the North’s international isolation following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, along with bungled economic policies and flooding.
Underscoring that the North’s simultaneous pursuit of nuclear armament and economic development are incompatible, the institute noted that Pyongyang would seek a way out of the dilemma the two-pronged policy has posed.
One of the possible ways to address the dilemma would be to obtain its nuclear-power status, engage in direct negotiations with the U.S. and restore relations with China, its major patron and traditional ally, the institute said.
To secure its nuclear-power status, the North could do something to show off technologies for nuclear fusion or uranium enrichment, which would make it difficult for the current nuclear powers states to reject Pyongyang’s claim about its nuclear armament, the institute said.
Touching on the North’s seventh congress of the ruling Workers’ Party slated for next May, the institute said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is likely to use the event to declare the opening of his era that differentiates from his late father, and his vision to enhance people’s livelihoods.
On the issue of the U.S.-China rivalry, the institute said that the two major powers may seek to restrain from clashing with each other, although there are possibilities that they could engage in minor confrontations.
In the last year of his presidency, U.S. President Barack Obama is unlikely to put forward a strong foreign policy initiative and may focus on practical issues such as the issue of securing congressional ratification for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade deal involving 12 Pacific-rim nations, the institute said.
China may also refrain from taking confrontational foreign policy moves as it focuses on the domestic economy, it added.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)