Many North Koreans are criticizing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s calls for “self-reliance” at a recent Central Committee plenary session and are expressing particular disappointment at failed US-North Korean talks and signs that the government will reassert control over private businesses.
“Last year, many North Koreans thought they had found lifeline when negotiations began with the US,” a Pyongyang-based source told Daily NK on Jan. 6. “After hearing Kim’s remarks at the plenary session, however, people are saying the future looks bleak. They’re worried about how they’ll survive another year.”
Meanwhile, a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK that he had felt US-DPRK relations were in trouble when he started hearing about North Korea’s “new path” before the plenary session.
“I knew for sure that everything had gone up in smoke when I heard about Kim’s promise to engage in a long and difficult struggle [against the US],” he said. “There had been rumors circulating since last year that the hard times would come again, and I realized then that the rumors had not been wrong.”
“THE BURDEN RESTS ON OUR SHOULDERS”
These statements from Daily NK sources at least partially express the immense feelings of frustration felt by many North Koreans in the face of the North Korean regime’s efforts to strengthen its “self-reliance” through a “frontal breakthrough” strategy.
During the plenary session, Kim remarked that “The more we bolster our own strength and create valuable wealth on the strength of self-reliance and self-sufficiency, the deeper the enemies will be driven into greater agony and the earlier the day of the victory of socialism will come.”
Kim also added that “All the Party organizations and officials have to […] turn out in the offensive for frontal breakthrough to foil the enemies’ sanctions and blockade by dint of self-reliance.”
To ordinary North Koreans, Kim’s words all but made it clear that ultimately the burden of carrying out these tasks would rest on their shoulders.
“The ‘frontal breakthrough’ mentioned during the plenary session was adopted without any regard for its effect on the livelihoods of North Koreans,” the Pyongyang-based source told Daily NK. “The strategy is simply a result of those in power putting forth policies that protect their authority.”
“Many North Koreans are complaining that ever since our fight against the Japanese imperialists, all the government goes on about is self-reliance. They’re wondering if this is just going to be how things are going to be forever.”
QUESTIONING KIM’S ATTEMPTS TO REASSERT CONTROL OVER BUSINESSES
The sources Daily NK spoke to said that Kim Jong Un may attempt to overhaul the economy given his remarks about “strengthening” the Cabinet-centered economic system. His comments suggest stronger state control over factories and other businesses in the country.
The sources argued, however, that it won’t be easy for the Cabinet to dominate control over factories and other businesses, most of which are under the control of North Korea’s donju, the country’s entrepreneurial class.
“I don’t imagine the government will have difficulty taking control over large factories. The reality is, however, that most factories are operated from investments by individuals and collude extensively with government officials,” the Pyongyang source told Daily NK. “This makes handing over control over these businesses to the Cabinet a rather difficult matter.”
“The government has encouraged private businesses to flourish, which has led to a lot of economic growth,” the Ryanggang Province source said. “Business owners will inevitably be angry if the government decides to reassert control over them.”
“People will complain that the government is intensifying its control over businesses just to benefit from their wealth,” he added.
The Kim regime has encouraged businesses to operate more independently from the government through its Socialist Enterprise Responsibility System, which was announced earlier this year through a constitutional amendment.
Daily NK sources expressed concern that if Cabinet control over businesses increases, businesses will have less of an incentive to operate efficiently.
*Translated by Violet Kim
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