Speaking of the JoongAng, they ran an interview with Peterson Institute for International Economics senior fellow and North Korea expert Marcus Noland, who was apparently in town for a seminar hosted by the Korea Foundation.
To sum up, he told the JoongAng:
- To show off his power, Kim Jong-un might conduct a nuclear test or launch a long-range missile. It won’t be easy for the North to launch a military provocation like the Cheonan sinking or Yeonpyeong-do because they know very well they’ll get wacked big time by the South if they do. (Marmot’s Note: I HOPE he’s right, but my own feeling is that his premise should have been just as true when the North Koreans actually did sink the Cheonan and shell Yeonpyeong-do. In fact, if Kim Jong-un would have learned anything from his old man, it’s that you can get away with not just one, but a series of acts of war against the South without inviting massive retaliation. This worries me because I have a gut feeling that Seoul will retaliate with air power next time North Korea tests its luck).
- North Korea’s economic situation hasn’t improved in 20 years. Economic disparity is increasing and markets are expanding, and economic difficulties could lead to political instability. North Koreans are pursuing personal interests and money over patriotism. Because North Koreans don’t trust each other and are subject to tight control, there’s a greater possibility of interest clashes within the North Korean elite than of a popular uprising. If there’s another “hard march,” it will be difficult for the Kim Jong-un regime to survive.
- The economic activity of North Koreans has grown through markets and black markets as central control weakened. Marketization has been most brisk in Pyongyang, where there’s a lot of money and Chinese goods. Markets are also becoming places where information circulates. Outside information like information on democratization about the Middle East is circulating through businessmen who trade with China. Women, who frequently go to the markets, are spreading the information. The state is trying to block this, but it’s not easy. In the border areas of Hamgyeongbuk-do, there are frequent clashes between security personnel sent from Pyongyang to censure information and local personnel who are bought off by traders.
- Currency reform in North Korea has been a failure. The state is offering favorable exchange rates in order to collect foreign currency kept by the people, but the people prefer the black market.
- For international sanctions to have an effect on North Korea, Chinese participation is needed, but China has no interest in sanctions on the North. North Korean dependence on China has grown, as has Chinese influence on Pyongyang. North Korea’s economy has actually improved.
- Since work on the succession has been ongoing since 2008, when Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke, Kim Jong-un will be stable for the time being. There could be tensions behind the outward stability, however. We may be able to get North Korea to suspend its nuclear activity, but it won’t be easy to get them to give up its nukes.