The purpose of this research is to investigate the characteristics of North Korea’s foreign policy that it pursued by dividing Chairman Kim Jeong-un’s reign into three segments, Ascension to Power (2011 Dec-2012), First Regime (2013-2017) and Second Regime (2018-2021), and based on these findings, predict the direction of North Korea’s changing economy. For this, we reviewed the changes in North Korea’s surrounding foreign landscape its policy responses, foreign trade, bilateral relations (China, Russia, the United States, Japan) and multilateral relations (UN Agencies, Multilateral Councils).
In chapter two, we introduced the changes that North Korea faced during the ten years of Chairman Kim Jeong-un’s regime with the surrounding foreign landscape and its domestic policy responses. During the First Regime, we reviewed (1) the May 24th Measures and the strained inter-Korean relations causing North Korea’s economy to be increasingly dependent on China (2) Deterioration of North Korea-China relations after Jang Song-thaek's execution, (3) China’s tightening of anthracite (hard coal) environmental regulations, (4) UN Security Council’s tougher sanctions on North Korea, (5) implementation of economic reforms such as North Korean-style economic management for domestic economic policy, (6) designation of Special Economic Zone to stimulate foreign trade and foreign investment, (7) real estate development to build high-rise apartments and amusement facilities, (8) declaration of completing the simultaneous economic and nuclear development after North Korea’s nuclear test.
During the Second Regime, we discussed the changes in both domestic and foreign landscape, in addition to North Korea’s policies, (9) UN Security Council’s fully-fledged implementation of sanctions on North Korea, (10) support from the international community for the Korean peninsula to show mood of conciliation, (11) The Hanoi Summit ending in failure (12) borders closed due to COVID-19, for domestic policy, (13) negotiations on the denuclearization of North Korea and 2019 Koreas–United States DMZ Summit, (14) attempts to transition to a “normal country” and join the international community, (15) failure of the five year economic plan (2016-2020), (16) emphasis on self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
Throughout Chairman Kim’s regime, the foreign landscape deteriorated. Development of a nuclear arsenal dealt a decisive blow to its foreign relations and eventually grinded to a halt with the spread of COVID-19 in 2020. In response, North Korea has attempted to normalize its cooperative relations with China and Russia while tightening its grip on its society and economy.
In chapter three, we outlined the trends of trade in Kim Jong-un’s regime, evaluating and comparing the direction and the impact of North Korea’s trade policy for each segment. Although expansion of trade slowed during the First Regime it still maintained strong levels. Trade however, significantly shrank due to the sanctions against North Korea and the COVID-19 pandemic. During the First Regime, North Korea sought the expansion and development of its international economy by deregulating and decentralizing trade, increase exports of processed goods, diversification, and localization. In order to achieve this, North Korea implemented policies that brought limited results such as increasing exports of textile goods, expanding trading areas with China, and import substitution for limited items. However, in the international economy of the Second Regime, North Korea’s trade regressed to its augmenting role of establishing an independent national economy, being greatly reduced in its size, variety of items and the sectors of trade. If this trend of harming trade interests continues, it will most definitely harm the North Korean economy.
In chapter four, we examined the political and economic relations with its neighboring stakeholders surrounding the Korean Peninsula with changes to the foreign landscape, such as China, the United States, Russia, and Japan. From a political viewpoint, Chairman Kim’s regime of ten years did less harm than good to North Korea’s foreign relations. Relations between China and North Korea improved, Summits of Heads of State between Chairman Kim and Korea, US, China, and Russia were utilized as a propaganda to show North Korea as a nuclear power to the international community. This in turn became an opportunity to bring together a counterweight against America in the midst of increasing tensions between US-China Strategic Competition and the Indo-Pacific Strategy. From an economic viewpoint, economic cooperation with China and Russia which limited the number of countries, regions and industries was not enough for the North Korean economy to improve. The causes of the limitations of economic cooperation were due to the state capacity focused on completing nuclear armament, international isolation due to sanctions, border closures due to COVID-19, and the high risk of investment in North Korea. In the future, we expect North Korea to strengthen its strategic cooperation with China in all sectors based on establishing a “New Era of North Korea-China Relations” in order to fulfill the requirements of the five-year economic plan by 2025. In addition, we expect North Korea to maintain good neighborly relations with Russia and continue to have minimal exchanges in areas that can act to their advantage. North Korea-US relations will depend on US-China relations while North Korea-Japan relations would depend on North Korea-US relations. This is because the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, US-China Conflict, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused the deteriorated America’s relations between North Korea, China and Russia while President Biden’s main agenda of the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the US strengthened alliance of the ROK-US-Japan, naturally forming a conflict structure between North Korea-China-Russia and ROK-US-Japan.
In Chapter Five, we focused on multilateral cooperation and aid to North Korea. While it is true that North Korea and the international community both respectively have a certain desire for multilateral cooperation, we evaluate that due to the disagreements stemming from differing perspectives, correspondence, and issues, there were no notable results. For North Korea, there is a demand for multilateral cooperation in terms in terms of revitalizing trade and investment, economic development, and financing. Although multilateral cooperation for North Korea brings membership of International Financial Institutions a necessary step and preemptively requires North Korea’s regime change, if we look into North Korea’s demands, we can see that there is a distinctive gap in what North Korea desires and what the international community requires. While North Korea has requested development cooperation aid, the international community has remained responding with humanitarian aid. This unbalance has shifted further with North Korea’s successive nuclear tests and tougher sanctions against North Korea. While North Korea’s multilateral cooperation policy in the Kim Jong-un regime stems from the differences between domestic and foreign political situation, there are still significant barriers due to exogenous factors, such as COVID-19, which has, with or without North Korea’s intentions has become an inhibiting factor. The UN sanctions and COVID-19 has physically prevented any projects that North Korea has or could receive from being implemented, and the reality is that is difficult for any multilateral cooperation projects to be carried out regardless of the intentions of North Korea or the international community. In order to revitalize the international community's support for North Korea, North Korea needs to show a more assertive attitude toward multilateral cooperation, and we judge that this same attitude had led to its active participation on the UN SDGs in 2016. If a compromise can reached between the international community and North Korea's demands (requirements) while implementing the UN SDGs, we expect this to provide an opportunity for North Korea's multilateral cooperation to become more active in the future.
Chapter six summarizes the discussions from chapter two to five and draw predictions on Chairman Kim Jeong-un Third Regime on (1) changes with North Korea’s economic policy, (2) tectonic shifts in the foreign landscape, (3) transition to living with COVID-19, and (4) North Korea’s attitude to membership in international organizations.
We reviewed three possible scenarios that showed the direction of changes with North Korea’s economic policy. The first scenario was if the UN sanctions and North Korea’s COVID-19 restrictions showed little to no changes to the present. The second scenario was the sanctions remaining the same, but North Korea transition to living with COVID-19. The third scenario was the sanctions being lifted with transition to living with COVID-19. Of the three, the first is the most feasible scenario.
With tectonic shifts in the foreign landscape, we reviewed deepening US-China conflicts and the Russo-Ukrainian War. We predicted deepening US-China conflicts would lead China to create a new multilateral Councils and North Korea partaking in it, China increasing its aid to North Korea and deepening their relations, the Russo-Ukrainian War prolonging with labor and supply shortages surfacing and North Korea expanding cooperation with war supplies and laborers, Russia’s aid to North Korea, (such as science and technology).
With predictions of COVID-19 measures, we discussed that it would be inevitable for North Korea to transition into living with COVID-19. In addition to the zero-COVID policy, we also reviewed North Korea's focus on agriculture and quarantine policies. In order for North Korea to transition to living with COVID-19, China’s zero-COVID policies need to transition as well to a living with COVID-19 with North Korea also requiring COVID vaccinations.
Finally, we predicted North Korea’s attitude to membership in international organizations. We selected disclosing economic statistics, denuclearization, and resolution of human rights to be obstacles to North Korea’s membership to international organizations, but would probably not surface if the organization was led by China. However, we also expressed that even if North Korea does join a Chinese-led organization, it will still have to face these issues, and North Korea would have to display more transparency as China had in its initial economic reforms and opening. In the end, if North Korea does not guarantee a certain amount of minimal transparency, it would be difficult for North Korea to obtain membership.