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Kim Jong Un's fearpolitik and marketization policies eroding public sentiment

Kim Ga Young  |  2016-11-25 15:58
A panel of experts noted this week that although Kim Jong Un has made several achievements including the 7th Party Congress, two nuclear tests, and 24 missile launches to stabilize the regime, he is creating internal dissent with the continuing reign of fear.

An influx of information through marketization is also thought to be growing beyond the control of the regime, which may accelerate instability in the middle and long term as an increasing number of residents prioritize their personal finances in place of obedience to the leadership. 

At the event, hosted by the Institute for National Security Strategy (INCC), Shin Gak Soo, Director of the Center for International Law in Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said, "The North Korean regime has been sustained by three factors: idolization, control, and communism. But [nascent] marketization and the influx of information spreading recently have been eroding its authority from within."

"Kim Jong Un has been trying to parade the stability of the regime to the outside world through events such as the 7th Party Congress, but internal contradictions within the system will only grow, he noted, adding that no one is able to advise the young leader in leadership strategies, as even his inner circle fears the draconian repercussions if they are perceived to step out of line. 

He also surmised that although there is a low risk of imminent collapse of the regime, the risk will gradually increase if the current trends continue. 

"Power in North Korea is strongly concentrated in Kim Jong Un, who is showing an overt style of ruling and openly making threats of purges. As a result, his associates are keeping a low profile and their sense of community is significantly declining, Professor Kim Young Soo at Sogang University added.

"'Kim Jong Un prefers to induce 'excessive loyalty' and 'excessive mobilization' in the process of establishing his Monolithic Ideological System, but this method is expected to yield negative outcomes in the longer term. It is already becoming a common practice in North Korea to subtly ignore the orders of the Party and to pay bribes when caught in a crackdown," Professor Kim added.

It was also asserted that ruling costs for the Kim Jong Un regime have become greater than that of the previous regime - a natural outcome of providing incentives to compensate for the loss of genuine support. In fact, the North Korean regime has been forced to use incentives as it cannot draw on voluntary contributions from the people anymore," he explained.

"Residents are showing new patterns of behavior, regarding money as more important than social class. They are also increasingly open to external information, meaning that the exclusiveness of North Korean society is either weakening or relaxing. Our current policy objective would be to address this situation for the implementation of North Korea policy as much as possible," he added.

Panelists at the event agreed that the next priority for North Korea policy should be focused on active strategies to drive change in the North Korean system, using Kim Jong Un's obsession with nuclear weapons and loss of control over the people against him. In particular, further calls were made to develop new strategies for information dissemination to shift public opinion within North Korean society.

Kwak Gil Sub, head of the Center for Research on the North Korean Regime added, "Because North Korea is developing asymmetric tactics including nuclear weapon and missiles, we need to develop strategies focusing on freedom of information. The [South Korean] government should support the efforts of civic organizations to break the information blockade, enhance covert psychological warfare tactics, and develop new approaches to help distance the North Korean people from the regime and foment change from within. 

He noted the need for more continuous radio broadcasting into North Korea, particularly focused on stories of North Korean defector life in South Korea, as well as more indirect content to incite a genuine desire for unification and reunion instead of mere criticisms of the regime.

There were also suggestions that North Korea may implement more aggressive anti-South policies, using the United States presidential transition and lack of clear North Korea policy by the next administration, and capitalize on roadblocks to new UNSC resolutions as well as the political turbulence in South Korea. South Korea was identified as particularly vulnerable to domestic turmoil should North Korea pursue a policy of appeasement, by proposing a peace treaty with the US and reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

"Recently, North Koreas tactics have shifted to encouraging political instability in the South. The regime is likely to see next year, with the new US administration and the domestic election in South Korea, as the right time to encourage instability and pressure on the ROK-US alliance. It will likely choose to focus on shoring up the security of the regime through idolization of the Kim family and development of nuclear weapons and missiles in the meantime," Mr Kwak added.

"We must improve our efforts to implement a proactive deterrence strategy to ensure national security by promoting the spirit of national defense. Now we need a change in philosophy from the existing mode of passive defense, responding to the occasional provocations by North Korea, into a more active deterrence strategy," Professor Kim added.

Regarding the new US administration, Professor Kim noted that, "We need to prepare for new measures to develop our own deterrence capabilities in case the US-South alliance becomes weaker. We need to strengthen our ability to develop nuclear weapons using our own considerable scientific resources, even if we fall short of becoming a nuclear power, and use it as diplomatic leverage."

"With the election of the Trump administration, the South Korean government will need to redouble its efforts toward North Korea policy, including resolving the nuclear issue with clarity when negotiating with the US. For now, the only way to put enough economic pressure on North Korea to make it change is by persuading China. Therefore, South Korea can persuade the US to pressure China to become more active in resolving North Korea's nuclear issue," Mr Shin added.

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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