Pak Pong Ju’s re-emergence as North Korea’s Cabinet prime minister has again raised hopes in the defector community that improved economic conditions in the North could be around the corner. This is a reflection of Pak’s presence during the implementation of previous economic measures in the early to mid-2000s.
Pak was among the leaders of the ‘July 1st Economic Improvement Measures’ of 2002. He was subsequently appointed prime minister in September 2003, but was then removed in April 2007 as criticism of the ‘capitalist yellow wind’ spread.
Kim Sung Chul, who was chief Party secretary at a major enterprise at the time Pak was prime minister recalled, “At that time, North Korea’s economy improved really quite rapidly. People were always talking favorably about him.”
He went on, “He was strong-willed and broad-minded. Because people remember what Pak Pong Ju was like in the past, the North Korean people have hope now.”
Lee Seok Young, the director of Free North Korea Radio agreed, saying, “A lot of people inside North Korea also have huge expectations now he has been appointed prime minister. Park Pong Ju was the one who made people think that even North Korea was becoming a capitalist economy.”
Many people see Pak’s advocacy of enterprise autonomy during that period as a major driver of economic improvement. “The tradition of the state choosing the cadre to run each enterprise changed, and the most capable person was chosen instead,” Lee pointed out.
Many defectors believe that if Pak Pong Ju brings in new economic management measures as in the past, then the marketization of North Korea and passion for reform and opening will spread at high velocity. “People were able to own private land because of Pak Pong Ju, and that was unimaginable. I remember people saying that if there were another Pak, we’d be able to live well,” Lee said.
Lee added that he anticipates Pak implementing the ‘June 28th Policy’ that was announced last year.