DPRK must Shift Focus from Military to Stimulate Economy, Ease Isolation

It is obvious that North Korea’s policy of placing too much emphasis on its military, which is continuing its nuclear and missile development, has exacerbated that nation’s isolation from the rest of the world and its economic stagnation.

What the North Korean leader needs is a fundamental change in the policy of threatening other countries with military power.

In North Korea, the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea held its first congress in five years. Kim Jong Un, who used to be the chairman of the party, has newly assumed the post of the party’s general secretary.

General secretary is a position that was also held by his father Kim Jong Il and his grandfather Kim Il Sung. The move is apparently aimed at boosting his prestige as supreme leader.

Since the death of his father, Kim Jong Un has led the country for nine years. Kim Jong Un’s efforts to try to establish his authority through the reinstatement of the title can be said to be the flip side of his poor performance.

He admitted that almost all of the goals of the five-year strategy for national economic development adopted at the previous congress could not be achieved. This is a far cry from his slogan of “improving the people’s standard of living.”

Kim Jong Un cited economic sanctions by foreign countries and natural disasters, among other factors, behind his failure to achieve the goals, but this is nothing but sophistry to avoid responsibility for his mismanagement.

The U.N. Security Council has adopted a resolution to restrict trade with North Korea, and each member country is implementing the resolution because it regards North Korea’s nuclear development as a threat to the entire international community.

Kim Jong Un continues to turn his back on the fact that the only way to lift sanctions and revive the economy is for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and missiles.

The Kim Jong Un regime is largely supported by China, which does not want North Korea to collapse. The sharp drop in trade between China and North Korea due to the spread of the coronavirus has dealt a heavy blow to the North Korean economy. China should thoroughly implement the sanctions and urge Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons.

A new five-year economic plan of North Korea says that the country will strive for self-sufficiency without dependence on foreign countries. The plan describes this as building a “self-supporting” economy, but the reality is that the country is only asking its people, who are living under economic sanctions, to have a more austere life and intensify their labor.

At the party congress, Kim Jong Un reiterated the country’s policy to build up its military capabilities. He has positioned the United States as its “foremost principal enemy,” setting such goals as improving the accuracy of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting the East Coast of the United States and downsizing nuclear warheads.

It is highly likely that he will shake up the new administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, which will be inaugurated on Jan. 20, by showing off North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

Japan, the United States and South Korea must make efforts to maintain and strengthen their deterrence and response capabilities through the Japan-U.S. alliance and the U.S.-South Korea alliance. It will be necessary to promote the normalization of the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, which have been scaled down in response to North Korea’s demands.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 14, 2021.