April 22nd saw the first full session of the North Korean Cabinet since Pak Pong Ju was appointed Cabinet Prime Minister. According to reports, the meeting agenda included discussion of the ‘byungjin line’ of co-developing the economy and nuclear weapons, as well as budgetary issues for the People’s Economy in the first and second quarters of 2013.
Such meetings are not rare; indeed, last year there were three of them. However, attention has been refocused on the activities of the Cabinet by the recent ascension of Pak to the top job within it. There are many experts and analysts who see Pak as a reformist element in the North Korean regime, an opinion rooted in his leadership of economic changes implemented earlier in the 2000s.
However, those persons will have been disappointed by the outcome of the meeting, as it revealed no significant change of approach. The Cabinet merely mirrored those decisions taken by the extended Politburo during its last meeting: stressing the need for innovation in order to improve economic construction and the lives of the people, and suggesting that more weight be put on the People’s Economy in the second half of the year.
Of particular interest was the fact that, as Minju Chosun, the Cabinet’s publication, said, “There was concrete discussion of expanding nuclear fuel production, the previously announced decision to restart the graphite-moderated reactor at Yongbyon, and cultivating human resources in the nuclear sector.”
Yet in actuality, long-range missile launches and the restart of the Yongbyon nuclear facility are not under the remit of the Cabinet. Rather, they are dealt with by the Second Economic Commission, which has responsibility for the military-industrial complex. As such, the paramount value of the meeting as propaganda to show both the loyalty of the Cabinet to the regime of Kim Jong Eun and North Korea’s determination to follow a policy of nuclear development is clear, rather than any practical policy value.