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North Korea


As of mid-1993, North Korea seemed eager to seek reconciliation with South Korea and to open its doors to the outside world. This eagerness is largely the result of demands by the United States, Japan, and other Asian countries that North Korea improve its relations with South Korea as a precondition to improving their own relations with North Korea. At the same time, North Korea also worries that the opening of North Korean society to South Korea and the West will be problematic because it will allow potential ideological contamination.

The IAEA agreement on nuclear facilities poses a challenge to North Korea because both United States and South Korean analysts have indicated that North Korea is working on developing nuclear weapons at a facility in Yngbyn, approximately 100 kilometers north of P'yongyang. On January 30, 1992, P'yongyang signed the IAEA Full Scope Safeguards Agreement and agreed to open its nuclear installations for inspection. North Korea also was required to submit to the IAEA an inventory of all of its nuclear materials before inspections.

North Korea is under pressure to embrace opportunities presented by the changing world situation in the 1990s as well as to concentrate on accelerating its economic development. Nonetheless, it is likely that North Korea will continue its present course with respect to internal politics until its economy improves substantially. Economic pressures are forcing P'yongyang to hint that it would like to begin to open up to the noncommunist world (see Foreign Economic Relations , ch. 3). In this regard, it has established a special economic zone offering preferential tax rates for foreign investments in the Tumen River area.

From a political perspective, it is unlikely that political liberalization will occur in the near future. Such action would probably lead to subversive tendencies and jeopardize the existing political system. The upheaval in the former Soviet Union and East European countries has aggravated North Korea's economic woes and caused political fear among--and the exercise of caution by--P'yongyang's leaders. Because the KWP firmly controls the state and no formally organized dissident movement against the regime exists, the party is likely to continue its political conservatism and to intensify its "socialist education."

What changes will occur in terms of political development are uncertain. An accelerated opening of North Korea, fueled by improved relations with South Korea, the United States, and Japan, will erode North Korea's socialism and is hence unlikely to occur. Kim Il Sung's succession plan for handing over power to Kim Jong Il has been reinforced with the younger Kim's assumption of power as the supreme commander of the armed forces. North Korea's sluggish economy, however, is a principal stumbling block for maintenance of the regime and its leadership succession process. Support among top military and political elites for Kim Il Sung's succession plan may depend on the achievement of political stability and economic growth as well as the maintenance of the status quo for those in power. Their support may waver with Kim Il Sung's death.

Overall, North Korea is likely to continue its two-track policy: strengthening ideological indoctrination while increasing economic relations with capitalist countries. Whatever options Kim Jong Il chooses, his references to the need for bolder reforms may be followed immediately both by warnings about moving too fast from hardliners who stress the importance of orthodox ideology over economic reform and by complaints about reforming too slowly from technical experts who stress the urgent need for economic development and technology accumulation. However, given his years of studious apprenticeship, and assuming the absence of major upheavals in the Koreas and the international environment, continuity under Kim Jong Il seems assured, at least for the early 1990s.

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Sources on North Korea vary considerably in reliability and balance, so they should be used with care, particularly in the case of information emanating from North Korea. Information from South Korea also has a political bias. Major articles in Nodong simmun (Workers' Daily), K lloja (The Worker), and other Korean-language publications are translated into English in the Foreign Broadcast Information Service's Daily Report: East Asia and the Korean Affairs Report issued by the Joint Publications Research Service.

For in-depth coverage of North Korea, one of the most comprehensive sources is Pukhan Chns (North Korean Handbook), in Korean, prepared by South Korea's Kuktong Munje Yn'guso (Institute for East Asian Studies). Pukhan (North Korea), the monthly organ of Pukhan Yn'guso, the Research Institute on North Korea in Seoul; and Kita Ch sen kenky (Studies on North Korea), a Japanese-language monthly of the Kokusai Kankei Ky d Kenky jo (Joint Research Institute on International Relations) in Tokyo are also useful. Vantage Point, an English-language monthly periodical issued by Naewoe Press in Seoul, and East Asian Review, an Englishlanguage quarterly published by the Institute for East Asian Studies in Seoul, provide in-depth studies of North Korean social, economic, and political developments.

Other sources include the annual survey articles on North Korea in Asian Survey, the annual roundup of articles on North Korea in the Far Eastern Economic Review's Asia Yearbook, and the now defunct Yearbook on International Communist Affairs, published by Hoover Institution Press. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of June 1993

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