New signs in N. Korea
It’s official now: North Korea is changing, or at least is trying to change. That is, if the report by the National Intelligence Service submitted to the National Assembly Thursday is any guide. The spy agency’s intelligence capability has often been in doubt, but we hope the NIS is right this time around.
The latest proof Kim Jong-un wants to alter the communist state is the disclosure of his wife, ``Comrade Ri Sol-ju,” as the North’s propaganda machine calls her. It may be too early of course if one associates her to Raisa Gorbachev, but Kim’s desire to appear as a leader seeking more openness, and probably restructuring, seems all too apparent.
True, there are all kinds of possibilities ― and impossibilities ― in the reclusive state. Kim may be either sincere and genuine or pretentious and in disguise. Even if the 20-something leader proves serious in reform, one cannot know for sure whether he can emerge as a final winner in the complicated power struggle with the military and other hard-liners. In any case, he will not easily abandon the socialist regime and economy.
Yet South Korea should have two things in mind in coping with potential changes in the North. First, people tend to see things as they want to. Conservatives will regard the seeming change as a deceptive ploy or limited attempts for survival, calling for the government to remain cautious. Liberals will interpret the moves as signals for gradual change in the isolationist regime, calling for Seoul to grab the opportunity for reviving a severed relationship.
The widely differing, if not squarely opposite, views about North Korea among South Koreans stress the need for narrowing the gap about what the North actually is, and more importantly, what it should be like in the future.
And this should base itself on the second hypothesis in thinking about the inter-Korean relationship: North Korea is not necessarily an everlasting fossil but a living thing that can be changed through interaction with the outside world.
China and Vietnam had three things in economic reform: the leader’s will, outside help (money and know-how) and détente with archenemy, the United States. At best, North Korea currently has only the leader’s will and is seeking the rest from the outside.
Based on a national consensus, South Korea can help on condition of the North’s abandonment, if gradual, of hostility, and persuade its biggest ally to go in that direction, too. Seoul of course can neglect all those signs, and let the North slowly die or commit suicide ― along with the South.
This is another key factor Korean voters should consider in December.