North Korea’s economic improvement depends on denuclearization

Editor’s Note: Thae Yong Ho was serving as North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom when he chose to defect with his family to South Korea in 2016. Following the recent release of his book, “Cypher of the Third-Floor Secretariat,” and his departure from the Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS), he has committed himself to improving the outlook for those still living in the DPRK. His current efforts focus on information sharing and the power of education to effect change.

As one of the highest-ranking diplomats to ever defect, Thae has teamed up with Daily NK and its broader media consortium, Unification Media Group, for a weekly series to share his unparalleled insight into the North Korean system, ethos, and strategic thinking, while unpacking his vision for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Transcript (filmed on July 25):

It was recently reported that Kim Jong Un scolded officials during inspections of a power station and factory in the Hamgyeong Provinces for being “shameless” and “incompetent.”
Kim Jong Un not only publicly denounced the ranking officials in charge of the economy but also the berated the Organization and Guidance Department of the Central Committee of WPK; an  unprecedented act in North Korean history.


Kim Jong Un is trying to create an image that he has been continuously carrying out field guidance trips without rest to prevent the “people from tightening their belts,” while administrative bodies of the Central Committee of the Party and Cabinet have not been in operation.


In other words, he is looking for a scapegoat to take responsibility for the worsening North Korean economy.


However, the actual target of berating should be Kim Jong Un himself who brought upon the implementation of sanctions through the development of nuclear weapons as well as North Korea’s unrealistic socialist economy.


The closed society, totalitarian control strangling the creativity of officials, disrupted and confusing functions of the Party, Cabinet, Military and defence industry have all pushed North Korea to become an underdeveloped country.


Furthermore, it has been stated that North Korea’s economic growth rate has plunged by –3.5% as a result of the sanctions last year. This means that, at present, 20 years after North Korea’s ‘Arduous March,’ the economy is at its worst.


If North Korea wants to break free from the current state of economic turmoil, the leader must give up the totalitarian economic management and expand the market economy as much as possible.


In fact, after China and Vietnam adopted the market economy 40 years ago, they became the fastest developing countries in Asia. Nonetheless, starting the denuclearization process and breaking free from sanctions is North Korea’s urgent priority.


However, the current signs that are coming out of North Korea raise speculations about whether North Korea is trying to drift away from the denuclearization process.
Not only was US Secretary of State, Pompeo, labelled a ‘gangster’ after visiting Pyongyang to discuss the details of denuclearization but North Korea also criticized President Moon on the 20th with statements such as “talking as if he is the judge” and for giving “useless instructions.”


Calling out their negotiating partners with personal attacks such as “gangster” and “not making a good assistant in the passenger seat, let alone a driver,” is not of the right demeanor.

If North Korea does not start its denuclearization process, the US will have no choice but to tighten the loosened sanctions which will only lead to the disintegration of North Korea’s economy.


An incredible amount of funds are needed for Kim Jong Un to develop nuclear weapons and an additional sizable amount of resources are needed to sustain and keep them.
It must be remembered that these are funds that the North Korean economy is unable to sustain.


Nuclear weapons are in no way a source of profit for Kim Jong Un.


Right now, Kim Jong Un’s continuous unexpected actions have raised South Korea’s expectations and popularity of him.


Thus, if Kim Jong Un puts down his nuclear weapons, South Korea and the international community will without a doubt give support to North Korea.

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