Home LATEST NEWS North Korea, after 10 years under the rule of Kim Jong-un

North Korea, after 10 years under the rule of Kim Jong-un

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Early predictions of tutelage, collective leadership or even a military coup were crushed by hundreds of executions and purges that spared no one, not even members of his family or of the old guard.

This ruthless consolidation of power, paired with a personality seemingly tailor-made for TV propaganda, has allowed Kim to make it clear that his grip on the country is absolute.

But after 10 years in power, his regime could soon be hit by a perfect storm of painful sanctions, pandemic and only escalating economic woes. If Kim fails, as he has publicly promised, to develop both his country’s nuclear arsenal and dying economy, a task many experts deem impossible, his regime could falter.

The modest economic growth it was able to generate for a few years, through trade and market-oriented reforms, was followed by years of tightening international sanctions starting in 2016, when Kim accelerated the development of its nuclear arsenal and missiles capable of striking the United States and its Asian allies.

After briefly emerging from isolation for two summits with former President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019, Kim is now stranded at home, grappling with economic deterioration made worse by border closures due to the pandemic.

Kim Jong-un, prone, uses binoculars.  He is surrounded by several generals.

Kim Jong-un in a customary staging of the last Stalinist regime on the planet, during a military exercise, March 20, 2020.

Photo: Reuters / KCNA

How Kim runs the North Korean economy over the next few years could determine the fate of his regime and even the future of his family dynasty, political scientist Park Won-gon of Ewha University in Seoul said. .

The nuclear weapons program, the economy and the stability of the regime are intertwined. If the nuclear issue is not resolved and the economy does not improve, it could be a source of instability and confusion in North Korean society.

A quote from Park Won-gon, political scientist at Ewha University

Kim absolutely needs to get the sanctions lifted if he is to revive his economy, which has also been battered by decades of incompetent management and bloated military spending.

But sanctions relief is unlikely if Kim does not take concrete steps towards denuclearization. The COVID-19 crisis has crippled some of Kim’s main economic goals by slamming trade with China, which remains his only ally and major trading partner.

South Korean intelligence recently told the country’s parliamentarians that North Korea’s annual trade with China had fallen by two-thirds to US $ 185 million as of September 2021.

North Korean officials are also worried about food shortages and out of control inflation. A shortage of medicines and other essentials has accelerated the spread of water-borne diseases such as typhoid fever, added parliamentarians briefed by the agency.

Talks with the United States have stalled, but Pyongyang could benefit from increased tensions between Washington and Beijing, believes Andrei Lankov, a political scientist at Kookmin University in Seoul.

China is ready to keep North Korea alive by providing aid, fuel and food, and that takes the pressure off Kim to have to negotiate with the United States.

Instead of growth, North Korea will have stagnation, but not an acute crisis. For Kim Jong-un and his elite, this is an acceptable compromise.

A quote from Andreï Lankov, political scientist at Kookmin University

North Korea has intervened aggressively to tighten state control over the economy after the borders were closed due to the pandemic. This erases Kim’s previous reforms, which allowed private investment and granted more autonomy and market incentives to state-owned companies and factories to facilitate domestic production and internal trade.

It also appears that the North Korean leadership is trying to crush the use of the US dollar and other foreign currencies in the market, which could indicate a melting of their foreign exchange reserves.

Restoring central control over the economy could also be essential in mobilizing the resources Kim will need to expand his nuclear program, which would otherwise be problematic due to the deteriorating economy.

While Kim has suspended testing of nuclear devices and long-range missiles for the next three years, he has stepped up the firing of short-range missiles that threaten American allies such as Japan and South Korea.

It was nuclear weapons that got Kim in this mess, but he goes ahead with a contradictory policy of developing nuclear weapons to get out of it., said Go Myong-hyun of the Seoul Institute of Political Studies.

Punishments […] are going to stay put, and a return to a state-controlled economy hasn’t been the answer in the past and it won’t be the answer now. At some point, Kim will have to decide what to do with his nukes, and that moment could come relatively soon.

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