I have long cited North Korea as an example of an autarky economy. Yet it is also the home of Stalinism and is a blight on the world. The latest revelations that the uncle of Kim Jong Un, Jang Song Thaek, has been purged and executed is not uncommon under the North Korean regime. Now Jang has been (digitally) airbrushed out of photos with Kim Jong Un. This has an eerie resemblance to the Stalin regime where non-people such as Nikolai Ivanovich Yezhov were airbrushed from history. This is straight out of Orwell’s 1984.
How long can China continue offering support and comfort to this odious regime? It, and only it, has the power and opportunity to reform North Korea and bring it into the 21st century.
The Korean War of course was a battle between communism and capitalism, and resulted in the division of Korea. The divergence of North from South Korea is a testament to the hard working and innovative South Koreans under a market economy (albeit with some flaws) versus the Stalinist regime of the North. The gap between the two countries in terms of wealth, freedom and utility is orders of magnitude greater than that between East and West Germany prior to the German reunification.
Perhaps Korea will one day be reunited. But the key issue is North Korea which is not only a security threat to the world (including China), but also has impoverished its starving and abused people.
By embracing a market economy, rather than communism under Chairman Mao, China has made dramatic inroads in reducing poverty within its borders. It has grown remarkably over recent years. It retains some remnants of a communist system in terms of governance, although it is arguable how long these can persist under a rapidly growing economy where the middle class becomes ever richer – its people are moving up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Yet, despite this turnaround, China continues to support the North Korean regime. It is unclear, and unlikely, that North Korea in its present form offers any national security benefit to China. It probably worsens China’s security interests.
If China were to purge the North Korean regime and bring a China-like regime into power, while guaranteeing the independence of South Korea, it would be doing the world a massive favour and would genuinely be helping the people of North Korea.
Even by instituting such reforms, it will be decades before North Korea could resemble a modern state – its people have been brainwashed and it will take generational change for it to fully adapt to a market economy. But we must start somewhere.
This is something I hope Xi Jinping takes to heart – it is time for China to step forward and start the long process of North Korean reform.