NK‘s prosperity promise in doubt
It’s no secret that North Korea has long promised its people that the country would emerge as a “strong and prosperous” state this year in time for the 100th birth anniversary of its founder Kim Il-sung that falls Sunday.
While the Stalinist regime is sure to roll out major events to celebrate the occasion, what remains hidden is the impact that the campaign will have on the North’s impoverished population.
Pyongyang has already begun moves to herald its arrival, most notably the opening last week of the Huichon Power Station in its central border region with China that it has long hyped as a symbol of prosperity.
The plant is said to have a generating capacity of 300,000 kilowatts and was a pet project of the late Kim Jong-il, who died of a heart attack late last year.
A massive military parade and cultural events are expected be held and it has been reported that hotels are filled to the brim with invited foreign guests. Foreign journalists have arrived to witness a controversial satellite launch that the North has tied to the occasion. Many speculate that citizens will be given extra rations for the occasion.
Other projects for the founder’s centennial include the 3,000 new high-rise apartment units in the Mansudae area of the capital and the unveiling last week of a huge rock carving in his memory on a rock-face in the city of Gaeseong.
But many analysts question whether the events will convince the populace, which still faces a host of problems including food shortages and isolation, of major progress.
“By proclaiming an era of strength and prosperity, the North Korean regime is trying to convince the population into believing that the years to come will be better, in order to maintain power,” Park Young-ho, an analyst with the Korea Institute for National Unification said.
“But people may be tired of hearing the continued propaganda. They may look around and not believe a new age has come.”
Raising the stakes is that the anniversary comes as new leader Kim Jong-un is installed as leader following the death of his father.
The regime is expected to use meetings of its Worker’s Party and rubber stamping parliament to elevate him to further posts to consolidate his standing, cementing an unprecedented back-to-back hereditary power transfer in a Stalinist state.
Analysts say the satellite launch, widely criticized as cover for a long-range ballistic missile test is likely meant to bolster Kim’s military credentials.
Despite a successful power transfer some experts say the regime has tough days ahead as any reform of the economy would risk opening the country to outside forces and the likelihood of undermining the regime.
The continued economic growth in neighboring China and South Korea and the increase of information flowing across its borders will complicate the matter further, Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University, said at a forum last week.
Some scholars, however, such as Paik Hak-soon, believe the populace is likely to react positively to the message that an era of strength and prosperity had arrived.
“Like South Koreans, North Koreans are people who are very pleased with national accomplishment, even if they are not fed well. If they get enough food in April and the satellite is launched, it could have a big impact in the people and give them pride.”
Only one thing seems for certain: the regime in Pyongyang is certain to attract plenty of attention in the coming days.