The international community continues to encourage North Korea to stop its dangerous militarization, and according to current U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, no one has more power to do so than the current twenty-something-year-old (his exact birth date is unknown) DPRK leader. Yesterday, after speaking with South Korea’s foreign and defense ministers, Clinton issued a statement urging Kim Jong-un to break away from the North Korean leadership model of the past. Clinton said that Kim has the chance to “chart a different course” for the people of North Korea, by putting their basic needs and rights ahead of reckless nuclear developments:
Referring to Kim Jong Un, Clinton expressed “hope that the new leadership in Pyongyang will live up to its agreements, will not engage in threats and provocations (and) will put the North Korean people first … Rather than spending money on implements of war, feed your people, provide education and health care, and lift your people out of poverty and isolation,” she advised North Korea’s new leader.
The benefits of such a reformation could be substantial. As noted in an earlier post this week, the probability of donor countries contributing millions of dollars in aid would likely rise significantly if the DPRK would agree to take basic steps toward denuclearization. Further, the open trade that might ensue could help alleviate the massive North Korean food shortage. North Korea’s southern neighbor, also, remains willing to compromise should the DPRK choose this path. South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan maintained yesterday that the “road to cooperation” is still open should “North Korea stop its provocation.”
Unfortunately, as a Reuters article notes, so far Kim has demonstrated that he will merely continue the harsh “military first” and “self-reliance” models of both his father and grandfather. This choice had been signaled through public statements, but was solidified with the attempted launch of a long-range rocket two months ago in April. But with his people suffering so terribly and no sign that his current model will provide any major help, why does Kim continue to ignore the international community’s pleas for change?
According to regional expert Victor Cha, former U.S. presidential adviser and director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council, a massive reformation would almost certainly cause Kim to lose his political control, and it takes a rare, courageous leader to attempt such a risk:
True reform in a post-Kim Jong-il era would require the courage to loosen the very political instruments of control that allow the regime its iron grip on the people. The dilemma the young Kim faces is … that he needs to reform to survive, but the process of opening up will undeniably lead to the end of his political control. [From The Impossible State, p.105]
Either way, it seems as if the current North Korean model is unsustainable, and Clinton noted that sooner or later change will have to occur, with or without Kim’s consent, “because at some point, people cannot live under such oppressive conditions – starving to death, being put into gulags and having their basic human rights denied.” For the sake of the North Korean people facing such grueling hardships, let’s hope that the “Great Successor” lives up to his name, and change comes sooner rather than later.