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Big Propaganda, Small Improvements

[Day of the Sun]
Kim So Yeol  |  2011-04-14 18:13
Come tomorrow, the Day of the Sun, North Korea will be precisely one year away from the target date upon which the authorities have long claimed the doors to the strong and prosperous state will swing open.

During the March of Tribulation, it was repeated time and again that the people should endure and be patient, because in the end a strong and prosperous state in ideology, the economy and the gunstock would come to pass.

And it is true that in some fields the Kim regime has made some changes, even progress, in the last ten years or so.

In the field of ideology, ‘Military-first’ is now firmly established as the guiding creed of the state. Revising the constitution for the first time in 11 years through the Supreme People's Assembly in April, 2009, North Korea finally erased the word communism, long absent from real life, and replaced it with Military-first as the leading ideology alongside ‘Juche’.

It could also be said that North Korea has become a nuclear state, a form of success in the military field. On April 7th, the Minister of Unification in Seoul said that he believes North Korea possesses between six and ten nuclear weapons, while in February, the United States Congressional Research Service also said that North Korea has between 30 and 50kg of plutonium, sufficient to produce four to seven further nuclear devices.

North Korea is also pursuing a Highly Enriched Uranium program, something which is easier to conceal and move around than a plutonium-based program. Indeed, the world was rather shocked when North Korea revealed the existence of hundreds of enrichment centrifuges regulated by a very modern control room to Sigfried Hecker, the director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, in November of last year.

In addition, North Korea is concentrating many of its limited resources on increasing its military competence, including the development of more reliable Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and asymmetric warfare capabilities.

However, overall North Korea has still failed. It is possible to claim that the Military-first idea and the development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles represent achievements in ideology and the gunstock, but on the other hand it is hard to find any economic achievements of note, and many people outside the capital are still struggling to survive. To put it another way; the people can’t survive on slogans, and they can’t eat missiles.

North Korea, which strongly emphasized the need to develop the People's Economy (light industry and agriculture) in its 2010 New Year’s Common Editorial, used the expression “strong and prosperous state” another 19 times in this year’s editorial as well, stressing, 'Let's accelerate light industry again this year and create a critical shift in improving the people’s lives and construction of the strong and prosperous state.'

Especially, it proclaimed, "This new year, the 100th year of Juche will light the flame of a great upsurge in the people's lives. It is the year of an all-out offensive battle to forge a critical turning point in the construction of the strong and prosperous state."
And yet, just two weeks later North Korea released a different vision; a ten-year strategic plan for national economic development. On the face of it this plan appears to provide a blueprint for foreign and economic policy, but deeper investigation suggests that it is mostly designed to allow the leadership to evade responsibility for failing to construct the strong and prosperous state. Instead of the strong and prosperous state in one year, it states that North Korea will develop over the next ten years.

The document also quietly switches the slogan ‘opening the gate to the strong and prosperous state’ for one of merely setting the foundations, commenting, "(Due to the implementation of this strategic plan), the foundations from which to enter the front entrance of the strong and prosperous state in 2012 have been established, and the firm prospect of stepping proudly up to the level of developed countries by 2020 is set."

North Korea has for some time been aiming to recover electricity generation and factory operations to the level they were at prior to the March of Tribulation, but the economy which the people experience has not actually changed in any substantial way. Kim Jong Il appears to be concerned about this, and is trying to prevent the deterioration of public opinion caused by this continuing economic crisis, but he is fighting a losing battle.

Prior to the Chosun Workers' Party Delegates’ Conference last year, Kim Jong Il gave on-site instruction for a few days in Jagang Province. At the same time as the Supreme People's Assembly was being held last week, Kim Jong Il again visited Jagang Province with Kim Jong Eun.

Jagang Province is where Manpo Transportation Factory, which produces chemicals, and munitions and related industrial facilities like Kangkye Integrated Tractor Factory, the February 8th Machinery Complex, March 5th Youth Mine, February United Steel Factory and Jagang Machinery Factory are located. It is a province closely pegged to light industry and has a role to play in improving the people’s lives.

Lim Kang Taek, a North Korean economy expert and senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said he thinks North Korea plans to “promote incremental production increases of major fibers, steel and fertilizer as the normalization of Juche economy."

Rodong Shinmun asserted through its December 8th editorial last year, "The spread of the Juche Idea is the dying instruction of Kim Il Sung and the immutable course of our economy. The great path of the strong economic state will be opened wide when we sound loudly the roaring gunfire of the spread of the Juche Idea." However, while the propaganda will be big, the real gains are likely to be small and, in many cases, ephemeral.

In the absence of long term economic gains, then, may experts assume that North Korea will resort instead to claiming that it has realized Kim Il Sung's desire to feed the people on “rice with meat soup”, and call this a victory for the strong economic state.

This, they say, is why North Korea is calling for rice aid from across the world even though the real situation is no worse than normal. Indeed, Lim is not alone in imagining that "For the sake of the Kim Jong Eun succession, the North Korean authorities might take the symbolic step of restoring the distribution system at the time of the strong and prosperous state. North Korea’s recent accommodation of a survey of real food conditions by international organizations and requests for rice aid through diplomatic missions abroad can be seen as part of this."
 
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