Kim Jong-un‘s era
Only way out is to reform and open up
Undaunted by the ominous failure of Friday’s rocket launch, North Korea officially opened the ``Kim Jong-un era” amid its biggest military parade ever two days later. In a carefully choreographed event to celebrate the centenary of the regime founder’s birth, the third-generation Kim pledged to pursue his grandfather’s ``juche” (self-reliance) ideology by sticking to his father’s ``songun” (military-first) policy.
This is the fastest path to his country’s ruination, and none within the isolated state, but everyone outside it, seems to admit that.
Few had expected the third Kim would deviate from the road Kim Il-sung opened and Kim Jong-il paved. And it must be too early for the 20-something to say other things even if he wants to. Kim Jong-un is ― and will remain so in the foreseeable future ― a figurehead, an apex sitting atop a perilously balanced pyramid kept by North Korea’s power elite.
Yet that should be no reason for major regional players, especially the United States and South Korea, to end up ― once again _ sitting and watching the reclusive regime’s next moves. The allies will condemn and punish North Korea more, although one can’t help feeling skeptical whether there are any more effective words or deeds left. For too long, they have regarded Pyongyang only as a constant, not a variable, in the equation of international politics.
And this is why we regret some media reports that the Barack Obama administration will suspend all dialogue attempts with North Korea until the U.S. presidential elections are over. If true, what these reports mean is the North will be able to do anything it wants ― one more missile launch or even nuclear test ― for another full year until the next U.S. administration fixes its direction for North Korea policy.
Obama might think continued negotiations with Pyongyang would provide additional ammunition for his Republican opponents to attack what they see as weak diplomacy. Yet a weak president is not one who tries to diffuse a crisis through pressure and persuasion, but one who lets it grow even worse for fear of failure.
Kim Jong-un and other North Korean leaders must know they have no other choice but to reform and open up if the closed country is to survive, if not becoming a strong and prosperous one. Some of them, hopefully including its Swiss-educated new “Supreme Leader,” might know this. At stake for outsiders is how to induce them to turn the bold idea into action, by promising a soft landing ― ensuring the regime’s security ― as were the cases of China, Vietnam, and more recently Myanmar.
If the North’s outward provocation or implosion can be compared to the explosion of a nuclear bomb, its reform and opening-up is like running an atomic power plant, a slow, peaceful and beneficial process. Playing the role of moderator should be South Korea.
The next president, liberal or conservative, should be ready for that.