The Elusive Nature of North Korean Reform
AsiaPacific Issues, No. 108
Honolulu: East-West Center
The new leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, appears to be fostering a new political enthusiasm for reform. Is this all theatrics? Or does it signify a substantive policy shift? Reform is possible: Kim Jong-un may have the necessary resolve to successfully push reform; officials associated with the last reform attempt are still present and may truly be able to bring lessons learned to bear on a new reform effort; and, importantly, both China and South Korea are likely to be supportive of a sincere attempt at reform. But while the projected image is positive and progressive, rumors coming out of North Korea illustrate unsettled and contradictory impulses of government policy. Provocations such as missile and nuclear tests may deter potential partners from engaging with North Korea. It appears likely, unfortunately, that any "reform" will be of a partial sort--benefitting the people of Pyongyang, the elite, the state, and the party--and not a genuine shift in policy that might improve conditions for the country at large.