GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 384, January 05, 2011

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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Introduction
Hopeless New Year
No War on the Korean Peninsula as Long as U.S. is Present
To Strengthen the DPRK-China-Russia Tripartite Structure in Year 2011
North Korea-China-Russia Alliance Difficult to Achieve
Economic Aid will Lower the Possibility of an Armed Conflict

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Introduction
At the beginning of the year, people become hopeful with expectations about the new year even if they are in a bad situation. However, it is hard to see a smile on North Korean people’s faces, which are as gloomy as the cold weather. Pessimism seems to prevail among the people due to their prolonged suffering. The present edition opens the year of 2011 with reporting on North Korean officials’ thoughts regarding how to resolve the current crisis. Note that the statements are the officials’ personal opinions that are difficult to make in public and are not intended to be represent the thoughts of the general public.

Hopeless New Year
A party official in Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province, replied that “the No. 2 military provision storage facility is empty” in regards to a question concerning the New Year’s prospects. He confirmed that after the Party Representative Conference last fall, the food in the No. 2 storage facility were given to the military and, since then, the facility has not been restocked. As a result, government procurement officers were dispatched to farms to obtain grains, but their efforts were hampered by this year’s harvest decreases that resulted from severe flooding. Officers ended up appropriating farmers’ personal stocks, but could not state that their actions were for military purposes because of the order ceasing the collection of rice for military provisions. One official said, “It was one of the cruelest things that could be done to other human beings and it was horrible to see desperate farmers wailing while trying to keep their rice.” “However, this is a military-first era,” he added, “Soldiers have to be a priority.”
Hamheung City in South Hamgyong Province party officials are pessimistic and predict that the dream of becoming a strong and prosperous nation will be unattainable without a significant increase in economic support from China this year. Nonetheless, government officials, who have more opportunities to learn of outside news than ordinary civilians, believe that that even if an independent national economy is achieved, economic recovery will be difficult under current circumstances. Production for Juche Steel and Juche Textiles are lower than expected. In addition, although people are hoping for successful farming yields this year if fertilizers are provided by Juche Fertilizers, they are doubtful that this will ever happen. While the New Year’s Day joint editorial asserts that “brilliant prospects are being opened for the mass production of products from Juche Steel, Juche Textiles and Juche Fertilizers,” one official states that there is a consensus among party members that attracting foreign investment through diplomatic maneuvering is the only way to survive.

No War on the Korean Peninsula as long as U.S. is present
(1) The mood among Central Party officials is not bright. As they underline the importance of endeavoring to “thoroughly materialize the principle of self-sustainability” in the New Year’s Joint editorial, their major concern is survival. Accordingly, influential Central Party agencies have been traveling abroad to earn foreign money and purchase provisions. However, this has not been an easy task. Several officials affirm that “this should not be the only approach to solve [North Korea’s problems], but all methods of government diplomacy should be considered.” Moreover, instead of offering a direct answer to a question regarding the possibility of military force against South Korea, one official asserted that he thinks that “there will be no war on the Korean Peninsula.”
(2) At this point of time, China neither wants a war on the Korean Peninsula nor a united-Korea hosting American forces on its border. China also assumes that the feeling against war is mutual with America because of their united economic interests. If America engages in a war, it will be only because they feel a need to go to war against China. But North Korea anything within the current framework of having China guarantee regime survival while trying to draw out the U.S. for a dialogue.
(3) Improving relations with America not only serves the purpose to elevate North Korea’s status as a proud member of international society, but is also a prerequisite to attract western investors and rejuvenate its economy. North Korean leaders also believe that an over-reliance on China is negative in the long run in terms of maintaining their regime and exercising sovereignty. On the other hand, relations with America will strengthen prospect for international recognition of their system’s legitimacy.

To Strengthen the DPRK-China-Russia Tripartite Structure in Year 2011

According to the officials of the Central Party, DPRK leadership will continue to pay considerable attention to the DPRK-China-Russia tripartite relationship in year 2011. It is because, the DPRK analyzed, receiving grand scale economic support from China while strengthening the DPRK-China-Russia tripartite relationship to counter the ROK-America-Japan tripartite alliance would be advantageous in maintaining DPRK sovereignty. When ROK and China normalized relations on August 24, 1992, DPRK-China relationship had deteriorated. It was believed that even during the early period of the Chairman Kim Jong-Il era, there existed delicate tensions between the two countries. An official in the Central Party reminisced that at the time, "the alliance with China was in disarray and economic support from China had almost stopped." There was a view that the causes of economic problems were internal ones but that they were aggravated by the collapse of old Soviet Union and East European countries as well as the chilling relationship with China. However, the new Kim Dae Joong administration in South Korea launched the Sunshine Policy that helped improve ROK’s relationship with the DPRK. DPRK's relationship with China began to thaw naturally as a result. It was believed that S. Korea mediated on behalf of North Korea for better diplomatic relations and freer economic activities between China and Western countries. With the Roh Moo Hyun administration, the DPRK took a pragmatic stance in which it would accept everything that the South Korea offered while implementing policies that would prevent any infiltration of “Yellow Wind” and prevent any ideological turncoats among citizens. With the Lee Myung Bak administration, many officials insisted that "because Lee administration attempted to overthrow the DPRK with the assistance from America, it had to align with China." "There is just one goal: to resolve this difficult situation by year 2012. If nothing is feasible there are some who are willing to go to war. However, there are political calculations that even if one is willing to go to war, two strong countries, both America and China do not want war and therefore would stop any all-out war." Among officials, many believe that if the DPRK pushes for war, China would provide all kinds of materials in order to prevent war. Further, if there is a war, it would be an emergency situation, and China would actually provide more material support without any precondition; it might even be easier to maintain ideological discipline among the people because of the war. These are the reasons that the DPRK would concentrate more on cooperation with China this year. As to the relationship with S. Korea, it is believed that the Lee Myung Bak administration would continue to antagonize the DPRK during its remaining period. Therefore it is imperative to strengthen the DPRK-China-Russia tripartite structure to counter the ROK-America-Japan tripartite alliance. An official of the Central Party said that "if South Korea continues to employ harsh policies, our response will have to become harsher. What the Lee Myung Bak administration does not understand is that the Sunshine Policy prevented a second Korean war and it also prevented the DPRK from becoming subservient to China. This cannot be calculated in money alone."

North Korea-China-Russia Alliance Difficult to Achieve

North Korea will maintain a political strategy with the goal of consolidating its tripartite alliance with China and Russia in opposition to the alliance between South Korea, the United States and Japan this year, but North Korean leaders question whether this approach will meet their expectations. In 2010, Russia suffered from a severe drought and a series of forest fires caused by abnormally high temperatures. This led to a suspension of grain exports from August 15th to the end of the year, and consequently, a critical situation for North Korean leaders whose prospects for Russian food aid were completely shattered. Economic cooperation with China has also been problematic. Last year, Daepoong Company, which was founded to attract Chinese investment, did not achieve any of its goals. North Korea was also excluded from China’s lists of the 147 and 137 countries recommended for tourism and investments, respectively. In response, the government recently repealed its restriction against exporting rare earth and minerals, though they noted that this will not guarantee Chinese investment. Due to North Korea’s withering alliances with its neighbors, Central Party officials have also considered the possibility of improving relations with the United States. One official stated, “If our economic cooperation with China does not improve, we should have summit meetings with the United States and receive investments from western countries in order to develop our economy.” Although North Korean officials express the importance of an alliance of with China and Russia, an underlying assumption is that the more they rely on China, the less independent North Korea will become. Conversely, improving relations with the United States would foster North Korea’s independence while leaving the regime intact.

Economic Aid will Lower the Possibility of an Armed Conflict

Officials of the Central Party say with confidence that the regime won’t be able to win the support of the people unless the food problem, which has been going on for more than 20 years, is resolved. They believe that the regime can only be sustained with some stability if the economy becomes normalized. Despite the propaganda of a Strong and Prosperous Nation in 2012, solving the issues of eating and making a reasonable livelihood now are not an easy matter. Some say that the economy, which was already in a dire situation, went beyond a reversible point when the currency reform was implemented at the end of 2009. There is a rumor going around that the economic community admits off the record that “The currency reform turned the clock back 10 years.” An official repeatedly asking for anonymity described the badly aggravated public opinions saying, “At this point not even the late Kim Il-sung or his grandfather can allay public opinion.“ He stressed the necessity of immediate breakthrough measures for the economic crisis by saying, “Without a significant improvement in the lives of people, the DPRK will lose people’s support as well support from the officials.”
In this sense, there is an internal evaluation pointing out that the New Year’s joint editorial, like other years, contains no breakthrough measures. Although it stressed “the cutting-edge means to speed up the process of development in every economic field,” designating the defense industry as the pioneer of the cutting-edge breakthrough does not fit with the proposal of developing the light industry that is more closely linked to people’s lives. It is an undeniable fact that the military industry is an important industry in the era of military-first policy. Nevertheless, with scarce materials and lack of resources, the civilian industry sector will inevitably be sacrificed as long as the defense industry is given first priority.
Meanwhile, senior officials in Pyongyang speak about the possibility of armed conflict this year again if the tensions between North and South Korea continue. This is not only because North Korean authorities vow to do it, but also the atmosphere of preparing for war is pervasive among officials as well as among the general population. Since the 2006 flood, the food problem is getting worse and worse without relief. Food aid from the international community has been all but cut off. There is a widespread thought not only among the general population but also among some high ranking officials that a breakout of war may solve all of the problems in one fell swoop. An official claimed that North Korean authorities’ vow of going to war is based on this pervasive sentiment among people. He argues that economic aid from South Korea or from the international communities will lower the possibility of an armed conflict. His position is that resuming support from the international community and revitalizing of economy will resolve the food problem and that in turn will soften the war mentalities among people.

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