One size doesn’t fit all in geopolitics
There are few universal truisms in geopolitics and furthermore, attempting to employ ‘one size fits all’ formulas in unique geopolitical situations has been one of the most devastating tendencies of the American hegemon in recent decades. A more sensible format is the bespoke approach to both bilateral and multilateral relations which was prioritised during the recently concluded Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Qingdao. While the DPRK remains more economically and institutionally isolated from both its neighbours and the rest of the world vis-a-vis most other nations in the 21st century, one of the very few areas where a geopolitically universal truth can be applied is in the need for countries to continually pursue economic development for the benefit of their people.
It is in the area of economic development where the needs of the North Korean people are the same as those in any other nation, but it is in the careful bespoke application of economic development initiatives that the DPRK will be able to realise its full potential to transform itself from a largely autarkic state into one that develops healthy win-win economic partnerships in the coming years.
The DPRK has achieved substantial growth under Kim Jong-un and looks to increase these trends
The DPRK economy continues to grow rapidly in spite of recent waves of sanctions. Kim Jong-un’s reforms to the domestic marketplace have introduced some limited measures of market socialism to a traditionally command economy and under the present Supreme Leadership, large infrastructural projects in areas ranging from housing and roads to leisure centres and tourist attractions have been completed to acclaim from those who have visited the new sites in Pyongyang and beyond.
Of course, for the DPRK to carry its existing economic reforms further, it will need to partner with countries well placed to accelerate the DPRK’s development. Both China and Russia have expressed a willingness to help integrate the DPRK economy into a wider network of cooperative nations working towards win-win developmental goals.
Interconnectivity with respectful multipolar partners
In September of 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a tripartite economic cooperation initiative between the two Korean states and Moscow. South Korean President Moon Jae-in warmly embraced his Russian counterpart’s proposals at the time. Recent developments in the early stage construction of a DPRK to Russia highway looks to help pave the way for a future Russia-Korea Transport Corridor linking Russia’s far eastern regions to the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. China has also strongly indicated that as part of the existing process to create Korean peace through mutual Korean prosperity, a de-militarised Korean peninsula can play a key role on the south-eastern flank of the One Belt–One Road global trading and logistics initiative. With Russia affirming its dedication to One Belt–One Road as most recently expressed by the free trading agreement signed by the Russian spearheaded Eurasian Economic Union and China, there now exists a strong possibility for an economically integrated Korea to work in the format of harmonious trading and development initiatives with both Russia and China.
The medium and long term potential for such initiatives would benefit every participating nation greatly, but perhaps no more so than the DPRK whose highly educated workforce are hungry for material enrichment through the prospects offered via sustainable development. Kim Jong-un’s self-evident sincerity in pushing his country’s developmental agenda onto the world’s stage in the form of a potentially win-win peace process makes it clear that Pyongyang’s Leader has correctly analysed the global trends in the wider pan-Asian economic space and is set to integrate his country into a network of partners ready to cooperate on development and trade on a model that is antithetical to the exploitative neo-liberal schemes of the wider global west.
In this sense, Kim Jong-un’s decision to inaugurate a peace process in 2018 was motivated as much by his long term vision for DPRK economic development as it was by his clear understanding that his Chinese and Russian superpower neighbours are well placed to provide win-win opportunities for the DPRK that do not involve a threat to the DPRK’s sovereign political system and social realities.
Learning from Gorbachev’s grave mistakes
One of the gravest of the many grave mistakes made by the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his key adviser Alexander Yakovlev is that they thought that economic reforms and social reforms were inseparable. The result was that poorly thought out and even more poorly executed economic reforms became contingent on an un-natural disturbance in the equilibrium of the internally peaceful Soviet social system. The result was economic and political collapse whose repercussions were felt for decades to come.
While the Soviet Union of the 1980s was ultimately destroyed by a leadership that became seduced by unsustainable western style economic reforms and acculturating social reforms that led to an explosion in crime, narcotics proliferation, extreme poverty, mental and physical health problems, homelessness, a suicide epidemic and a prostitution epidemic, under Deng Xiaoping, the China of the late 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s did something much different from the neighbouring USSR.
Learning from China’s success under Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping
During China in the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping’s market socialist reforms catapulted China’s economy into modernity with the world’s most rapid and successful industrial revolution. It was Deng’s reforms which led to China’s poverty rate dropping from 88% in the early 1980s to 2% in 2018. By 2020, China looks to fully eliminate poverty under Xi Jinping’s drive to create a moderately prosperous society. Yet there was also a dark side to China in the 1980s, but one which ultimately was kept under control by Deng’s dedication to preserve China’s social model against the wishes of agitators and traitors.
In China during the 1980s, an increased number of so-called intellectuals went to academic institutions in the United States where they became seduced and intentionally programmed by US government operatives keen to see a seditious revolt in the People’s Republic of China–one with the ultimate goal of bringing the regime in Taipei back to power in Beijing.
Because a ready made regime in Chinese Taipei existed which salivated for power over all of China, the CIA and other aggressive actors did not need to go to the effort of forging a new regime or political model—they simply needed to create agitation among a class of elites in Beijing in order to try and bring down the People’s Republic of China.
Hu Yaobang became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1982 and by the middle of the decade, he became increasingly seduced by the liberal fantasies peddled by western “educated” academics. His open flirtations with liberal social ideology proved too much for Deng and other social traditionalists and he was removed from power in favour of Zhao Ziyang in 1987.
When Hu died in 1989, subversive western orchestrated “protests” among “students” and their academic masters began to foment with Tiananmen Square being a focal point. Rather than put a quick end to the numerically small displays, Zhao Ziyang instead offered sympathy to many of the “protesters”.
Zhao was in many ways one part traitor and one part naive. A man of great experience and with a deeply important political position such as Zhao should have been aware, as others including Deng were, that the “protests” were neither genuine nor spontaneous. He should have realised that the “protests” were an attempt to overthrow the institutions of the state and in so doing, paving the way for a pro-western regime. To deny this, as he did, was a sign of both carelessness and a dereliction of duty.
Part of Zhao however did likely feel some sympathy for the fact that young useful idiots of a western plot essentially volunteered themselves to be on the front line of a foreign entity’s proxy war against Chinese society. However, his interventions proved totally insufficient and even had the effect of encouraging the conspirator to cause more harm to themselves, others and to society.
The western orchestrators of the “protests” coordinated their provocations to coincide with the official state visit of Mikhail Gorbachev, a man who as was discussed previously, ended up destroying his state due to his inability to preserve a sustainable social model. Shortly after this, Zhao was finally removed from power in 1989 as China sent out the People’s Liberation Army to cleanse the streets of the western agents and restore order. This act while portrayed as an extreme measures, was actually a necessity due to the dangers of a foreign backed provocation spiralling into a devastating conflict which would have set China’s economic and social progress back decades. In acting decisively, Deng and his patriotic lieutenants were able to save China from the fate of the USSR.
The vast majority of the Chinese population was unaffected by the events of 1989, but the ruling elite realised that they needed to take precautions to avoid such western meddling in the future. China rapidly recovered because of the ultimately decisive action the government took in putting an end to the “protests” and as a result, China is the unshakeable powerhouse that it is today under the world changing leadership of Xi Jinping.
Economic growth without social change
The DPRK is not the repressive, horrific society that some western “journalists” like to pretend it is. The DPRK is a socially developed nation with an incredibly strong education system and rapidly advancing domestic infrastructure. Kim Jong-un remains popular not through the force of repression but through a traditional Korean understanding of respect for a leadership that is itself derived from respect for the DPRK’s founder and military saviour Kim Il-sung.
Citizens of the DPRK have embraced recent economic reforms and look to embrace the potential of an exciting future working with close regional partners, but this does not translate into any kind of fascination with alien cultural attributes that would upset the social dynamic of a functional and crime free society.
The Chinese, Russian and South Korean leadership understand the sensitivities implicit in the cultural dynamics of individual societies including that of the DPRK, although the same cannot be said of the United States government which tends to conflict the spread of chaos with moderate and reasonable reforms.
Few nations which have sought reform through rapid social change that runs contrary to the natural characteristics of a society have been able to achieve success. More often than not, chaos reigns supreme when such things are attempted as was made clear in the Soviet Union during the final days of Gorbachev’s rule.
Therefore, in order to help the DPRK integrate its economy into new global partnerships, any potential partner of the DPRK must not attempt to insult, disparage or meddle in its social system. It was through maintaining its social system while allowing for organic and gradual change, that China was able to pursue important economic reforms beginning in the era of Deng Xiaoping. These reforms ultimately shaped China into the increasingly prosperous, peaceful, harmonious and healthy society that it is today.
The DPRK can replicate this success with its own characteristics so long as there are no rash moves to inorganically alter the DPRK’s social system through the forced importation of alien cultural trends.