Over the past two or three years, media outlets all across the globe have been emphasizing North Korea’s growing isolation from the outside world, marking the country’s inevitable economic slump, which may potentially lead to the dissolution of the state.
The economic siege appears to come from two fronts: international sanctions and sanctions initiated by individual countries, primarily the United States, which have been comprehensible since 2017. Washington has been making an effort to ensure that its blockade is absolutely impenetrable and that it remains so for time to come. The designations of such U.S. strategy may change; however, its essence remains the same. Under Donald Trump, it came to be known as “maximum pressure” campaign. The incumbent Biden administration claims to have adopted a different approach, wherein it is ready to meet with representatives of North Korea “anytime and anywhere.” Yet, in practice, it is obvious that the United States only seeks to reinvigorate its sanctions regime, ignoring the implications of COVID-19 as well as repeated calls coming from UN Secretary-General António Guterres to lift all sanctions during the pandemic.
The rigidity of this policy was evident during a series of online ministerial meetings with the ASEAN countries in early August 2021, when Secretary of State Antony Blinken would persistently call for “full implementation” of the sanctions regime against North Korea. The decision to extend a ban on travel for U.S. citizens to North Korea adopted by Washington early in September can also be attributed to this policy stance. The decision disappointed many in America’s expert community who saw it as a “missed opportunity for U.S. diplomacy” as “suspension of the Trump-era travel ban would have been consistent with the Biden administration’s public remarks about its North Korea policy objectives.”
At the same time, the Western media tend to adopt a conservative stance when assessing the domestic situation in North Korea. We are witnessing an increasing number of critical, if not fatal, social and economic difficulties that could lead to the regime’s collapse, with the main reason for them largely being the regime’s own mistakes rather than the suffocating sanctions of the international community. The media refer to such errors as introducing an excessive lockdown to counter COVID-19, “tightening the screws” by exerting stricter control over the population, “brainwashing” the population, searching for scapegoats for the country’s economic problems, etc.
Therefore, it would be a good time to give some of our thoughts and conclusions about how political processes in North Korea have been evolving. As of the major political events of 2021, we have to mention the following.
First, one cannot ignore the scope and intensity of the political activities consistently undertaken by the country’s leadership.
North Korea’s Kim Jong-un took action to return the country to the classical model of “party-political work” typical of a socialist state. He is staying loyal to the slogan proclaimed when he came to power, “everyone should focus on their own work.” The army should build up defence capabilities, the party should stick to the political agenda while the Cabinet should deal with the economy, with the military now losing some of the powers it had acquired when the nation was in the pursuit of a “military-oriented policy” to see the army actively involved in politics and economic activity.
The country’s leader keeps a close eye on the compliance with statutory norms regulating the timeframes for holding party forums: the 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea took place exactly five years after the previous Congress, followed, only six months later, by three plenary meetings of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea as well as three extended meetings of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea were held. At these meetings, pressing challenges facing the country are discussed on an almost monthly basis. This started from the 8th Congress, during which Kim Jong-un demonstrated a direct and open approach as he declared that a number of key tasks of the previous five-year plan had not been fulfilled as effectively and swiftly as needed. These include maintaining and strengthening the emergency, anti-epidemiological and sanitary measures to prevent COVID-19 from proliferating throughout the country, battling the food shortage emerged in May to June 2021, rebuilding the areas devastated by natural disasters as well as the “definitive fulfilment of the grain production plan”.
Alongside these party forums, a series of large-scale industry-specific congresses were held during this period. These, among others, included meetings of youth, trade and women’s unions, meetings of secretaries of primary party organizations, the 7th National Conference of War Veterans. Each congress lasted a few days, being all attended by several thousand delegates. For example, some 10,000 delegates took part in the 6th Conference of Cell Secretaries of the Korean Workers’ Party in April 2021.
All this was against the backdrop of a difficult situation in the economy that has largely been caused by the international blockade (both due to suffocating sanctions and as a result of the country’s self-isolation) as well as the complete shutdown of borders to prevent coronavirus from entering the country.
These facts alone show that the country has demonstrated resilience in spite of all the difficulties.
Second, all these events show that Kim Jong-un is committed to building a socialist state and to carrying out his political agenda through a communist-type party, which is something he puts a premium on.
At the same time, some believe one explanation for why he is doing all this is that he would like to win respect of Xi Jinping, who promotes the same values in China within the Communist Party of China (CCP).
The most recent of these forums, the 3rd Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea held in June 2021, attracted a great deal of attention.
Much work was done to prepare for the plenary, such as a meeting between the party and economic activists in the run-up to the event. The work of the plenary was well-organized: the clearly structured programme featured specific sessions and on-topic panel discussions.
Just like at all previous events, the main tasks facing the country were highlighted at the plenary. These include searching for ways to overcome the economic challenges—a topic discussed rather frankly—as well as taking efforts to uphold the strict lockdown measures put in place to prevent COVID-19 from making its way into the country. The most pressing and urgent challenges for the country were thus placed front and centre.
Requirements to provide a decent nutrition for children in kindergartens, to include dairy products, speak to the country’s severe economic situation while the crackdown on anti-socialist and, interestingly, “non-socialist” phenomena—including “defeatism and opportunism,” which are now viewed as the most negative factors—speak to the difficult political situation.
This shows that the current state of severe economic turbulence prefers a dominant, state-controlled, centralized economy, while experiments with market economy are phased out. That said, it is unlikely that the market-oriented sector of the economy will completely disappear.
One of the principal tasks of all these party forums was to mobilize party members, activists and the populace to unprecedented levels in order to tackle the tasks set forth during the 8th Congress and elaborated at subsequent plenary meetings, which were aimed at adapting the country’s economy to the new conditions of the blockade and a dire economic situation.
An integral function of this task was to disseminate information amongst the population regarding the proposed party policy and its goals, which was achieved via numerous public gatherings, forums and other events. This is unlikely to surprise anyone. This area of work has and will always remain a priority in any political system worldwide.
Yet, interestingly, party activists have also initiated the search for new and creative solutions to current challenges by using their own resources, searching for people capable of generating new ideas, approaches and methods of work, later promoting them to higher ranks in the party. This is currently one of the highest priorities. Essentially, the main idea revolves around the fact that it is impossible to solve new crises with old solutions. Thus, those unable to implement new and effective approaches must be removed from leadership at all levels. This, on the one hand, seems to explain the frequent changes in party members at various levels. On the other hand, the same process testifies to full-fledged and functioning social and career lifts in the socio-political system.
A review of North Korea’s political and socio-economic activity over the first nine months of 2021 brings us to the following conclusions.
The situation in the country, especially in the economy, is rather grave—perhaps, even drastic in certain aspects. The causes have already been mentioned. Nonetheless, this is nothing out of the ordinary, and the challenges faced by the country are far from unprecedented. Many analysts from around the world keep returning to the question of how resilient North Korea really is and how long the country can stay afloat amid the current situation. Our answer here would be “for a long time to come.”
North Korea is certainly a country with many peculiarities. For almost the entire history of its 73-year existence, the country has been under sanctions and serious external pressure which have only intensified over the past 30 years and almost led to its collapse. However, not only has North Korea withstood these challenges, but it has been able, albeit at a moderate pace, to attain development goals, consistently strengthening its defence capabilities (including a very real nuclear potential) and the civilian sector of the economy (including several partially successful market-oriented experiments when the external situation allowed).
The expert community has always attempted to guess the secret ingredient to the endurability of the North Korean regime. An obvious component would be the unique social-economic mechanisms tailored to the country’s unique situation. The socialist model of economic mobilization, well-known from the first five-year plans of the USSR, demonstrated throughout World War II and during the post-war reconstruction of the economy, is highly effective. Ironically, it should be noted that U.S. think tanks have only now begun to ponder “decoupling”, conceptualization of the need to separate the economies of the United States and China, which were knit closely together during what Washington now sees as unsuccessful globalization. At the same time, North Korea’s founding father, Kim Il-sung, put forward the theory of “self-reliance,” primarily in the economic sphere, back in the 1960s. North Korea has since followed this path, which is of great help in hard times.
The challenges faced by North Korea today, no matter how much they hurt, have not yet reached the level of the so-called “Arduous March”, the severe economic crisis of the mid- to late 1990s. Analysts who closely monitor the language used during the mentioned party forums noted that nothing was said about a “Second Arduous March.” It would seem that the country’s leadership has calculated all risks and is taking fairly effective measures to control them in time. A successful COVID-19 strategy is one such example. The country instantly responded to the global threat, “tightly” closing its borders in January 2020, when many people had not yet heard of the new virus. The virus has not yet spread to North Korea. No doubt, the economic costs of such a prolonged self-isolation is exceptionally high. But Pyongyang chose, from its point of view, the lesser of two evils. And it looks like the leadership made the right decision. North Korea has experience in dealing with unprecedented economic difficulties.
In conclusion, it should be emphasized that an analysis of the domestic activity in North Korea shows that, despite serious, sometimes intimidating economic challenges, political life in the country is full, rich and dynamic. This speaks, amongst other things, to the leadership’s confidence in the situation in the country.
From our partner RIAC
U.S.- China Strategic Competition in The East Asia
East Asia has been the most dynamic region where development has been internationally recognized. The regional politics of the region has developed a paradox that has flamed up the economic environment of the region. The trends have shown the increased intensifying security issues along with the strategic completion that has spread the security and economic tensions across the East Asian Region. In a global circle, China is known as the revisionist state. The historical manners suggest the reclaim of East Asia by the Chinese. This claim has intensified the relations between the US and China in East Asian Region. The main challenge for China is to shift the US intervention from the East Asian region for the balanced equation at the strategic level. This might provoke the US and its allies in East Asia such as Japan that will help the US to jeopardize the Chinese rule from the region. The challenge for the US and its allies in the East Asian Region is more complicated because of the economic stability of China at the International Level. This might be a proxy war for both the superpowers in the East Asian region where the conflict may rise compromising the strategic stability of the region. The strategic location of the US lies in the actual form of ability and project power over great sustainable intervals. The strategic behavior increases the policies and shapes the allies.
One prevalent belief in the United States about China’s long-term policy goals in Asia is that Beijing aspires to be the regional hegemon and wants to restore a Sino-centric order in the region.
First, Beijing favors unipolar ties at both the global and regional levels and believes that with ongoing economic growth, this trend will continue intra-regional political consultation in Asia, influence on regional affairs is going to be more diversified and more evenly distributed. Secondly, although China expects some relative increase in its influence in Asia, it understands that thanks to the boundaries of its hard power and particularly its soft power, China can never achieve a grip cherish its role within the ancient past or to the U.S. role within the region at the present.
From Beijing’s perspective, the US is an East Asia power, although not an Asian power, and its political, economic, and security interests within the region are deep-rooted, as are its commitments to regional stability and prosperity. Beijing has always welcomed a constructive U.S. role in regional affairs. At the identical time, however, Beijing also feels uneasy with certain aspects of U.S. policy. As a superpower, The US has been too dominant and intrusive in managing regional affairs. It fails to pay due regard to the voices of other regional players and sometimes gets too involved within the internal affairs of other states, lacking an understanding of their culture, history, and values.
The US and European aspects towards the South China Sea and East Asia should involve long-term perspectives of engaging ASEAN states. Such impacts will create room for the US to tackle China in the East Asian region. The development of any comprehensive strategic security policy is the need of the hour that assures one’s interest in the region. Both the states perceive a threat from each other and try to further advance their capabilities for the sake of safety and security. The US is not in a position to deal with the other power far away from its homeland, sustaining its military and protecting allies. Aggressive behavior in strategic competition can lead to unwanted results. The US would have to accept the strategic realities of China to normalize the relations. China on the other hand should rethink its policies in East Asia and Indo Pacific. However, as yet, deterrence has played its part by keeping states from a large-scale action. States running in the race of acquiring arms conventionally due to uprising strategic competitions are worsening any likely condition of conflict.
Key points for US:
In terms of identifying specific actions for a U.S. strategy for competing strategically with China in East Asia, a key element would be to possess a transparent understanding of which actions are intended to support which U.S. goals, and to take care of an alignment of actions with policy goals. Cost-imposing actions are actions intended to impose political/reputational, institutional, economic, or other costs on China for conducting certain activities within the East Asian Region, with the aim of persuading China to prevent or reverse those activities. Such cost-imposing actions need not be limited to the East Asian Region only.
The development of any comprehensive strategic security policy is the need of the hour that should involve joint military maritime exercises. The US and China have set their limits in coordinating military to military joint cooperation due to their desired interests and competition. Both the states perceive a threat from each other and try to further advance their capabilities for the sake of safety and security.
Summit for Democracy Attempts to Turn Multicolor Modern World into Black and White Divisions
One of the most important takeaways from the recent sixth plenary session of 19th CPC Central Committee is that Beijing flatly rejects Westernization as the path to modernize the Chinese society and the national economy. Instead, as it was underscored in the plenary Communiqué, the country will continue to stick to “socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.” The leadership will preserve and further develop the system that served the people so well over last more than 70 years.
This statement did not come as a surprise to numerous China watchers all over the world. In fact, the critical choice between socialism and Western-type liberalism was not made in November of 2021, but decades ago.
One can argue that the outcomes of the sixth plenary session are yet another manifestation of a more general global trend: The world has been and will continue to be very diverse in terms of political systems, social models and economic patterns of individual nation states. Moreover, the odds are that this diversity will increase further literally in front of our eyes. Instead of the “end of history,” we will observe more intense multifaceted competition between different types of social development.
One way to react to this emerging reality is to accept it as a positive trend that enhances the overall stability of the global social system. The more diverse and complex the system is, the more resistant it is to various shocks and disturbances. To make a rough analogy with biology, a natural forest, which is a very diverse and complex ecosystem, is much more resistant to whims of the weather and natural disasters than a man-cultivated monocultural field. Accepting the trend, we should focus on how to manage competition within the increasingly diverse and complex world so that this competition will ultimately benefit all of us.
The other way to deal with this reality would be to start fighting against social, political and economic diversity by trying to advance one single model over all others. This is exactly what the Joe Biden administration is committed to doing by launching an ideological crusade against China, Russia and other nations that dare to deviate from the fundamentals of the Western development model. To make its case, the White House has announced a virtual Summit for Democracy to be hosted by the US on December 9–10 with the goal “to renew democracy at home and confront autocracies abroad.”
This vision reduces the multi-color palette of the modern world to a minimalist black and white graphics of a global fight between “democracies” and “autocracies.” It divides the international system into “us” and “them,” into “good” and “bad,” into “legitimate” and “illegitimate.” Such a reductionist system, if constructed, cannot be stable and shock-resistant by definition: Any major international crisis or a regional conflict could spark high risks of implosion.
It goes without saying that the nations of the world should firmly oppose corruption, abuses of power by state authorities and gross violations of human rights. If the goal of the Summit for Democracy were to confront these evils on a global scale, there would be no need to make the event exclusive by inviting mostly US friends and allies. If the goal is to advertise the US political, social and economic model, Washington should probably delay the summit and put its house in order first. If the goal is to isolate Beijing and Moscow in the world of politics, this is not likely to work well for the US.
Nations of the world have a right and even a duty to experiment with their political and social development paths. This experimenting contributes to the overall social experience of the humankind. Only history is in a position to judge what models turn out to be efficient, productive and fair and what models will find their place at the dump of human delusions. And history has a lot of means at its disposal to punish leaders, who believe that they possess a “one size fits all” model, which could successfully replace the existing diversity with an imposed universalism.
From our partner RIAC
The Chinese diplomatic force in the IAEA to confront Western leadership
At the level of international relations, through China’s presence in all the relevant international organizations, and its membership in all of the United Nations organizations, specifically in the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA”, China aims to play the role of the (international balancer), in light of its quest to maintain a certain level of competition with the United States of America politically and economically, this is in line with its desires to constantly play the role of the pole calling for (multipolarity and multilateral international pluralism through the Chinese political speeches of Chinese President “Xi Jinping”), in order to oppose American hegemony over the world and Washington’s policies to maintain its position as a single pole in the international community. China’s increase in its foreign investments, in order to enhance its economic hegemony over the world through its political and diplomatic tools with countries that have equal economic power with it in a number of (trade, scientific and technological issues, in addition to military and intelligence tools, as a reference for China’s new foreign political center).
We note that the patterns of Chinese foreign policy is (the pattern of dependence, which is based on the high level of foreign participation in all current global issues), to restrict the attempts of the United States of America to pass its decisions internationally, and therefore China is trying to enter the membership of all international organizations so that China’s foreign policies remain more comprehensive, broader and more effective in the global change, and to change all directions of these issues and control them in the United States, and this is one of its new political tools that serve its global expansion through the (Chinese Belt and Road Initiative).
In the same context, China focuses its external and competitive strength on its presence in effective international organizations, and rapprochement with the European Union, especially (France, Germany), despite not denying their relations with Washington, because of their strong influence in the global economy. In addition to China’s reliance on the plan of foreign and foreign investments in countries that influence American influence through the Belt and Road projects, as well as China’s resort to the import policy of many resources necessary to develop its economic capabilities from certain European countries to open influential relations with them, leading to (the Chinese strategy to obtain political support through the policies of alliances, consulates, representations, and its membership of international organizations), with the aim of influencing countries’ policies economically to pass important international decisions regarding the US challenge to China, such as: (the Iranian nuclear file, North Korea, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Syria, Venezuela, etc.), to increase with this The level of external penetration of China economically and politically).
China is mainly aiming to increase its membership in international organizations and the International Atomic Energy Agency, to (create a new balance of power and get rid of unipolarity restrictions through the medium powers and small states that the international system prevails with real pluralism, instead of the current state of American unipolarity).
In my personal opinion, the countries of the Middle East may find in the rise of China and Russia, and perhaps other international powers to re-compete the United States, as a (real opportunity to advance the effects of the pluralism of the international system at the regional level, and this would create more space for movement and opposition or bargaining and flexibility of movement for all to confront the policies of American hegemony, according to Chinese planning with Russia), and this also works to alleviate those restrictions and American dictates, and perhaps the sanctions and pressures it imposes on opponents of its approach internationally.
The strategy of competition between China and the United States has become China’s long-term strategy, which is based on (the necessity of a heavy Chinese presence in all international organizations and forums, which allows China to communicate with various global powers and balance its relations with them compared to Washington), as well as diversifying the People’s Republic of China for its relations and distribution of its power among the competing countries, which allows China to show wide options on all important issues, and the most dangerous is that this Chinese presence, which (allows Beijing to prejudice the foundations of its relationship with the United States of America and the other various powers around the world).
China and Russia also aim to form an alliance into all international and regional organizations to change the current provocative approach of the American policies in their confrontation, especially those related to mobilization policies and American alliances against them around the world. The Chinese alliance with Russia was so clear with the (Russian Foreign Minister “Sergey Lavrov’s visit” to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, while on the other hand, both Kuwait and Qatar have received a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the CPC Central Committee “Yang Jiechi”).
On the other hand, China is among the Security Council countries that have the largest number of (Chinese peacekeeping forces around the world), and China is at the forefront of the (most contributing countries to the international peacekeeping budget, in addition to sending naval fleets to carry out maritime guard missions according to according to the UN Security Council resolutions), and therefore China may play an important role in establishing security in many countries in the world, and this is perhaps what China plans to ensure its use, in the event of a decline in American interest in the security of many regions in the world, within the framework of (the strategy of pressure of the American expenditures, retreat and withdrawal from many places around the world and devote its concern to the American interior issues and its worsening economic crises).
The point is worthy to be considered here, is the report issued in July 2021 by the (International Atomic Energy Agency), entitled “Nuclear reactors around the world”, in which he analyzed China’s plan to (establish the dream of nuclear sovereignty around the world by starting to build and establish about 11 reactors). There are other Chinese nuclear reactors under construction, as well as the (new Chinese planning to build other 29 nuclear reactors), while the International Atomic Energy Agency’s work report on the other hand indicated that the known total number of reactors that are actually in service, other than those planned for construction, and other reactors under construction, is up to About 50 Chinese nuclear reactors, a step that confirms that “China is clearly shifting towards nuclear energy in the production of electricity, and depends on it directly in its industrial renaissance during the coming period, especially as it is the number one country in the world that is expanding in the establishment of nuclear plants, followed by Russia, which plans to build other 20 new nuclear reactors, while it has 38 nuclear reactors in active service”. Some leaks indicate the presence of Chinese nuclear reactors, exercises and tests in the “Doklam Desert” region on the borders of “Xinjiang” province in northwest China.
It also notes that, from the reality of the report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency “IAEA”, its confirmation regarding (Chinese planning to become the first country in the world in the production of nuclear energy during the next ten years, in return for the decline in the share of the United States of America in nuclear reactors, which continues to the continuous decrease with the exit of new American numbers of reactors annually), as the future plan of the United States of America does not include the establishment of new reactors, which indicates that (the expansion of this type of energy tends towards China and Russia during the coming period, and these countries will have accumulated experiences, enabling them to dominate and control this new nuclear industry in various countries of the world, and this is what is actually common happening in the region). Knowing that its uses will be mainly peaceful and to serve the interests of peoples and countries, so we may witness the coming period intensifying the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in many files around the world to study them, inspect different regions and various other areas to ensure (their peaceful uses of nuclear energy in many development projects around the world).
Hence, we almost understand (the importance of the Chinese presence and presence and its membership in the International Atomic Energy Agency in the first place), given that it actually owns 50 nuclear reactors in service, and its contribution to the production of electricity and providing energy to one and a half billion citizens, and China also has new nuclear reactors under construction, so (China seeks to be near the International Atomic Energy Agency, to embarrass, restrict and limit the American influence on the one hand against Beijing’s allies, led by Iran and then North Korea. Therefore, China has developed a strategic plan in the coming years, which is based on the intensity of the Chinese international presence and passing its foreign policies and decisions with the help of its Russian ally internationally).
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