North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong-un has ordered a nationwide debate on possible economic reforms, including the introduction of capitalist management techniques, Japan’s The Mainichi newspaper reported on Tuesday. The newspaper also quoted a representative of the North Korean Labor Party as saying that Kim Jong-un also urged the introduction of “any useful economic experience from China, Russia or Japan.”
According to The Mainichi, the new North Korean leader ordered to lift any bans related to the discussion of the ways the current economic situation in North Korea could be improved. The newspaper also claims that Kim Jong-un has pledged not to penalise anyone involved in a free economic discussion in his country. This information is yet to be verified, says Konstantin Asmolov of the Moscow-based Institute of Far Eastern Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
"Japanese media outlets have often published unconfirmed information, Asmolov says. The aim was to cause an international uproar and rock the North Korean boat. Commenting on the above-mentioned information is irrelevant because it is yet to be verified, Asmolov says. If this happens, diplomats and Chinese and Russian experts will offer their views on the matter," he added.
In an interview with the Voice of Russia on Tuesday, Moscow-based economics expert Georgy Toloraya expressed surprise about Kim Jong-un’s talk of capitalism and possible market reforms. According to Toloraya, the North Korean leader is currently focusing on consolidating his power – a drive that comes amid signs of Kim Jong-un’s desire to stick to the policies pursued by Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. In any event, the new North Korean leader will deal with economic reforms only after he strengthens his political power, Toloraya says.
"The topic has been on the agenda for many years, Toloraya says, referring to the fact that the closed Communist country is strongly opposed to any interaction with other nations– something that Pyongyang fears could destabilize the situation, undermine Kim Jong-un regime and expand Seoul’s political clout in North Korea. This is why Pyongyang is unwilling to implement fully-fledged economic reforms, but it could well legalize what is already in place in North Korea, including market trade, small businesses and exchange of commodities between companies. At present, those involved in such activities are being selectively persecuted," Toloraya says.
Another Far Eastern Institute expert, Viktoriya Samsonova, says that North Korea should go its own way in terms of the implementation of economic reforms.
"This scenario could see North Korea take advantage of China’s experience, Samsonova says. In any case, one should bear in mind that both Pyongyang and Seoul still depend on their Chinese partners. As for Russia, it could mediate in possible talks between the North and the South in order to reduce their dependence on China," Samsonova concludes.
In the meantime, Russia has proposed building a South Korean gas pipeline via the North Korean territory and linking the Trans-Siberian railroad to railways in both North and South Koreas. This will help North Korea to resolve its international isolation, develop market-based activities and implement an array of commercial projects, Moscow says, signaling readiness to share its economic expertise with Pyongyang.