event BI

Asan North Korea Conference

September 26, 2013 / 09:15-10:45
Yoo Ho Yeol, Korea University
Ken Gause, CNA
Jin Qiangyi, Yanbian University
Kim Keun Sik, Kyungnam University
Andrei Lankov, Kookmin University


Session Sketch

Session 5 titled, “The State of the North Korean Regime” mainly explored on North Korea’s internal dynamics and the regime stability under Kim Jong-un. In addition, speakers and the audience further discussed about the international policy coordination on North Korea.

The moderator, Yoo Ho Yeol from the Korea University, opened the session with the introduction of possible topics regarding the main agenda, such as North Korean regime stability, Kim Jong-un’s leadership consolidation, and North Korea’s domestic policy process.

Ken Gause, a senior research analyst from the CNA, began his remark about North Korea’s leadership dynamics under Kim Jong-un. According to Mr. Gause, Kim Jung-un has yet fully consolidated his power. Although he possesses all the titles and legitimacy of power, he has three primary regents who serve as gate keepers and form a bubble around him. They are Kim Kyung-hui, Jang Sun-taek, and Choi Ryong-hae. In addition, Mr. Gause described the process of power consolidation in three phases: stabilization of three generation hereditary succession, establishment of Kim Jung-un’s own power base that includes changes in his current regents, and assumption of full responsibilities as a supreme leader. Then he moved on to describe North Korea’s decision-making process. He presumed there are political debates within the lower echelon, but the decision is made within the small group of Kim family. Other opinion either feeds into the process or serves an educational purpose. Lastly, he predicted that North Korean regime is stable and will stay stable for the foreseeable future as Kim Jung-un consolidates his power.

Jin Qiangyi, a professor at the Yanbian University, focused on the internal market situation of North Korea and economic approaches of the international society toward North Korea. According to Prof. Jin North Korean society is already demanding an opening of market in terms of its structure, which means that the privileged class is looking for its future profit through the market. In addition, he emphasized that North Korean society has changed significantly after the Arduous March through marketization with the change transmitting from the below to the top. Then Prof. Jin defined two types of policy approaches of the international society as ‘sanction’ and ‘engagement.’ Each policy option has its own strength and limitation. However, he proposed ‘engagement’ that stimulates North Korea to strategically open its market and to start its autonomous transformation, since the ‘sanction’ is not working for nearly twenty years.

Kim Keun Sik, a professor at the Kyungnam University, summarized the comparison between Kim Jong-un’s leadership style with that of his father, Kim Jong-il, in five points. First, the current North Korea’s monolithic leadership system shows certain limitation on power under Kim Jong-un and some increment of key political elites’ authority. Second, although the size of political elite group is small and the group power is strong and stable, the rise and fall of members within the group exists. Third, Kim Jong-un attempts to show transparent and open leadership style and respects institutional function and authority. Fourth, Kim Jong-un succeeded his ancestors’ Juche and Songun (military-first) ideology, but has not fully developed his own ideological base. Finally, dual policy of nuclear-economy will continue even under Kim Jong-un’s regime.

Andrei Lankov, a professor at the Kookmin University, focused on the economic reform and possible movements of Kim Jong-un in the future. He predicted Kim Jong-un will consolidate his power within a few years and in the long-term he will take his risks by reforming the economic structure in North Korea. He made several points on North Korean economy. First, North Korean private sectors are feeling wide gap between North Korea and other East Asian countries. Second, even though Kim Jong-il decided reform was not their option, North Korean public already knows about South Korean prosperity and will be more destabilized as they know more. Third, Kim Jong-un is young and such dictators are willing to take more policy risks than the old ones. However, Prof. Lankov also warned that North Korea’s private business actors and elites will not favor economic integration with South Korea. In addition, he noted that North Korea will never give up their nuclear weapon, because it works as a powerful leverage against the possible instability after the economic reform. In the end, he emphasized it is important to support North Korea for their reforms when the time comes.

During the question and answer section, Alexander Zhebin from Russia and Peter Beck from the Asia Foundation were able to ask their questions. Dr. Zhebin focused on the current contradicting policies toward North Korea and enquired about solutions for such dilemma. Prof. Kim and Prof. Jin all agreed that the current sanction policy is not working on North Korea. Thus, they predicted engagement policy and economic cooperation would be more effective on North Korea to open their market and to foster the internal transformation. Their only concerns were North Korean regime’s rigidity and the fact that it will never give up their nuclear weapon for its security stability. Mr. Beck requested clarification for each speaker’s remark. Mr. Gause restated that Kim Jong-un successfully purged former powers and appointed his own people, but the sequencing and the strategy behind the appointment were deeply influenced by Kim Kyung-hui and other advice. Prof. Kim reconfirmed his point on Juche and Songun ideology saying that Juche ideology is used as a pure ideology, which does not directly affect North Korean policy approach but acts as the principle of thinking. Lastly, Prof. Lankov clarified his point on North Korea’s economic crisis. In an absolute scale, over the years North Korean economy has developed significantly. However, relatively North Korean economy is worse than its neighboring countries, especially South Korea. Thus, the feeling of ‘economic crisis’ is shared throughout the general public by “bench marking” of other East Asian countries.