January 22, 2022

Beyond Going Long

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Ten years in the government of the most powerful dictator: Kim Jong Un stands at a critical crossroads

Ten years in the government of the most powerful dictator: Kim Jong Un stands at a critical crossroads

Analysts predicted that after Kim Jong Il’s death, the DPRK could look at some kind of trustee government, collective leadership, or even a military coup. But Kim Jong Un dispelled any doubts with the help of hundreds of executions and purges against members of his family as well as “old guard” officials.

This ruthless consolidation of power, along with building a lifelong cult of his personality that seems to be made for carefully done TV publicity, has allowed Kim to make it clear that his power is absolute.

Ten years have passed since Kim Jong-il’s death opened the way for his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, to rise to power. But perhaps the most difficult moments in his government still await the first North Korean dictator of the new millennium, which brings him a combination of crushing international sanctions against the DPRK, the COVID-19 epidemic and the country’s growing economic problems.

If Kim fails to deliver on his promise to the public that he will advance both a nuclear weapons program and a moribund economy – which many experts consider impossible – it could pose major problems for his next government.

The modest economic growth achieved over the years through trade and market reforms has been followed by the tightening of international sanctions since 2016 after Kim Jong Un ramped up his efforts to obtain nuclear weapons and long-range missiles that could target them. the United States and its Asian allies.

In 2018 and 2019, Kim warmed up to the spotlight thanks to global attention thanks to summits he held with former US President Donald Trump. But now he is stuck in his homeland, struggling with the economic downturn, exacerbated by border closures as a result of the pandemic.

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Negotiations with Washington have been on hold for more than two years after he failed to restore much-needed sanctions relief from Trump. It does not appear that the government of Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, intends to pursue any agreement with North Korea until Kim Jong Un is willing to end its nuclear weapons program; But the North Korean leader speaks of it as a “precious sword” and the greatest guarantee for the country’s survival.

While the situation remains tightly controlled by Kim, it appears increasingly unlikely that he will achieve his two stated goals of maintaining a nuclear weapons program and ensuring prosperity for his impoverished population. Kim outlined these goals in his first public address as the leader of the DPRK in early 2012, promising that North Koreans “never have to tighten their belts again.”

According to Park Won-kun, a professor of North Korean studies at Seoul Ewa University, the way Kim runs in the coming years may determine the long-term stability of his government and possibly the future of his family dynasty.

“The nuclear weapons program, the economy and the stability of the regime are interconnected. If the nuclear issue is not resolved, the economy will not improve and this may open the door to resentment and turmoil in North Korean society.” Buck said.

Kim desperately needs the sanctions imposed by the United States on the DPRK to be lifted so that it can build the economy of a country damaged by decades of mismanagement and extensive military spending. However, sanctions may not be eased unless Kim takes concrete steps to denuclearize.

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Despite his willingness to hold summit meetings with a North Korean leader, Donald Trump has not shown a willingness to roll back sanctions, which he has described as Washington’s main lever against Pyongyang. It is hard to say whether Kim will one day see another US president willing to treat his country like Donald Trump.

However, US-North Korean diplomacy collapsed after the second summit in February 2019, when the Americans rejected the DPRK’s demand for a significant lifting of sanctions in exchange for the dismantling of an old nuclear facility, meaning the DPRK would only give up part of it. of its nuclear potential.

One of Kim Jong Un’s main economic goals has been hampered by the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has closed the border in the DPRK and paralyzed trade with China, its only major ally. According to South Korean intelligence, North Korea’s annual trade with China has fallen by two-thirds to $185 million by September 2021.

North Korean officials are also concerned about food shortages, soaring prices of basic commodities and shortages of medicine and other basic necessities. Therefore, according to South Korean intelligence, the spread of water-borne diseases, such as typhoid fever, has accelerated in the country.