North Korea has resumed some of its provocations, but John Merrill writes at the Nikkei Asian Review that we shouldn’t worry about where things are headed. Since the failed Hanoi summit, Russia, China, and Japan all seem less certain the US can reach an accord with North Korea bilaterally and have signaled appetites for getting involved and warming their relations with Kim Jong-Un.
The main future sticking point will be the sequencing between the lifting of sanctions and denuclearization. A hopeful sign is Trump telling Moon recently that he agreed with Seoul giving food aid to North Korea.
The U.S. has long had a psychological fixation on sanctions. But most academic studies show sanctions are largely ineffective. They are also sticky — once put in place they become devilishly hard to lift. Worse, sanctions can backfire or make the target state unpredictable.
In the case of North Korea, a major negative effect is that sanctions block Pyongyang’s self-proclaimed attempt to shift from a “dual track” military/economic policy to an “economy-first” policy, which promises to greatly contribute to peninsula-wide stabilization. This should be encouraged not stymied.
The increased involvement of Xi, Putin and Abe and their possible promises of economic development aid may now give Trump the political cover he needs domestically to partially ease sanctions in return for Kim’s gradual dismantlement of his nuclear program.
China, meanwhile, appears uniquely well positioned to help, Chan Young Bang writes at the South China Morning Post: As North Korea’s closest ally integrates with the world economy and starts cooperating with international institutions, Xi Jinping can show Kim the way toward economic reform and openness.
The core of the reform of North Korea’s socialist system is the privatisation of state-owned means of production, the liberalisation of the labour market, freedom of economic activities, and the formation of autonomous prices according to supply and demand.
It should also include legalisation of private market operations, estimated to account for more than 60 per cent of GDP, and the opening of commercial banks to replace today’s illegitimate moneylending operations by the entrepreneurial donju or “master of money” class.
Kim’s legitimacy will then no longer stem from the self-reliant Juche socialist ideology promoted by Kim Il-sung, but will be cemented through the building of an affluent welfare society, substantial system reform and spectacular growth.
No degree of external security can guarantee Kim’s security and legitimacy. Staring down impending famine and unrelenting economic sanctions, Kim must decide which way to turn: towards economic crisis, humanitarian calamity and ultimate illegitimacy, or towards reformation of the system and the establishment of permanent prosperity.
To follow in the footsteps of its closest ally, North Korea needs a blueprint for economic development, as this is the only measure which can ensure domestic legitimacy and internal security – and Xi is the only head of state who holds the key to unlocking this path.