The Korean Economic Forum
An Evaluation of the Reform and Opening of the North Korean Economy in the Kim Jong-un Era
Dongho Jo (Ewha Womans University)Year 2021Vol. 13No. 4
Since taking power, Kim Jong-un has continued to pursue new economic policies and measures. In terms of slogans symbolizing his era, he put forward ‘byungjin’ which means simultaneous development of the economy and nuclear weapons, abandoning ‘military-first’ of the Kim Jong-il era. In 2018 he went one step further and declared the ‘all-out concentration on socialist economic construction’, which can be called ‘economy-first’. In fact, positive changes such as the utilization of market functions, decentralization of economic decision making, and expansion of special economic zones are observed. It is difficult to say that the North Korean economy has yet to enter a phase of reform and opening, from the standpoint that reform should not be a simple improvement but a fundamental change in the socialist planned economic system itself, represented by privatization and liberalization, and that opening is to upgrade the level of domestic economic system and policies by understanding international standards and acquiring the benefits of international division. North Korea also publicly and officially denies the need for reform and opening. Nevertheless, in terms of directionality, it is assessed that the North Korean economy has already entered a difficult phase to revert. The change towards reform and opening itself is not a matter of choice, but only a matter of scope and speed.