Special Report - "DPRK Report"

2000-07-03 00:07
***** SPECIAL REPORT *****

The following "DPRK Report" is the product of a joint project between the
Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) of the Monterey Institute of
International Studies (Monterey, California, USA) and the Institute for
Contemporary International Problems (ICIP) (Moscow, Russia). It is
written by Russian analysts associated with the ICIP and edited by the

THE DPRK REPORT, No. 24 (May-June 2000)

1. The Role of the United States, Russia, China, and Japan in the Inter-
Korean Dialogue

Korea's division and the related problems it has caused are to a large
extent a product of the Cold War. However, that war ended a decade ago,
and its principal actors have managed to become partners in many fields.
This favorable external environment is one of the factors that should
help the recent inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang to open a full-fledged
and fruitful dialogue between the North and the South. Today, Russia,
the United States, and China share a common concern for reduced tensions
on the Korea Peninsula and are joining efforts to try to smooth relations
between Seoul and its northern neighbor. Japan is yet another key player
that may eventually have a positive impact as well.

Among the various actors, America's role will be very important in the
North-South dialogue. On the one hand, Seoul will be closely
coordinating with Washington all its moves vis-a-vis Pyongyang. The ROK
will be unable to make any concessions demanded by the DPRK without
American consent. In addition, the United States will presumably have
the final word in military-security matters.

On the other hand, Pyongyang will also be looking at the United States
when formulating its positions during the ongoing dialogue with the
South. The reason for this is obvious: the main goal of North Korea's
foreign policy is to normalize political and economic relations with
Washington. The dialogue with the South is nothing more than a part of
this strategy, so Pyongyang will be as forthcoming to Seoul as required
by its relations with Washington. By making gestures and concessions to
North Korea, the United States will be able to influence the tempo of the
inter-Korean dialogue.

China will be equally instrumental because it is the only DPRK ally
capable of convincing Pyongyang to take sensible and reasonable steps.
The Chinese are justified in taking considerable credit for the first
Pyongyang-Seoul summit. Without China, North Korea would not have dared
to take such a bold step. Beijing will also be able to influence Seoul
since South Korean leaders also regard China as a very important
political and economic partner.

Japan's role will be less pronounced since, for historical reasons, both
the DPRK and the ROK are not inclined to be very receptive to Tokyo's
advice and requests. In any case, Japan will be acting within the
framework of general U.S. policy towards the peninsula. However, at
later stages of the inter-Korean dialogue, Japan's impact may well
expand-due to its potential promotion of economic cooperation on the
Korean Peninsula.

The importance of Russia's contribution to the inter-Korean rapprochement
lies in two factors: its historical influence on the DPRK and its genuine
interest in a strong, unified Korean state. Despite recent upheavals in
Russian-DPRK relations, the North Korean leadership still looks at Russia
with special feelings, given the Soviet Union's role in helping to create
the DPRK and in keeping it afloat with massive aid.

Russian interest in a strong, unified Korea arises from the fact that
such a friendly state in Northeast Asia will help Moscow to check
possible regional domination by Japan or China. Both Koreas understand
that Russia is more anxious than Japan, China, and the United States to
achieve eventual Korean unification because each of the latter countries
may lose something once unification occurs.

2. The Summit's Influence on North Korea's Foreign Policy

A continued dialogue with the ROK will certainly lead to the improvement
of DPRK relations with the United States, Japan, and the West in general.
Pyongyang will do its best to exploit the new connection with Seoul to
gain a normalization of relations with Washington and Tokyo and to obtain
wide and permanent access to Western sources of financial aid and
investment. One can expect aggressive efforts on the part of Pyongyang
to squeeze as many concessions as possible from the West as rewards for
"good behavior" vis-a-vis Seoul.

At the same time, North Korea will need closer ties to China and Russia
in order to demonstrate the strength of its positions to the West and to
the ROK, as well as to bolster its campaign to elicit more Western
concessions. However, the DPRK will have to be subtle in this regard, so
that it does not scare the West away by leaning too much on China and
Russia. For example, while it is clearly in Pyongyang's interest to host
a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin, a reciprocal visit by Kim
Jong-il to Russia is hardly in the offing. Such intensive North Korean-
Russian contacts might discourage the United States from political and
economic flexibility in its dealings with the DPRK.

Another aim of Pyongyang's policy towards China and Russia will be to
receive as much material aid as possible. North Korea will undoubtedly
try to write off its debts (almost $4 billion) to Moscow, obtain Russian
assistance for the modernization of Soviet-built industries, and acquire
Russian-made weapons on easy terms.

As far as the ROK is concerned, the DPRK will concentrate on tapping the
South's financial and technological resources, as well as on obtaining
its consumer goods and food aid. All of the DPRK's diplomatic skills
will be utilized to resist concessions on such sensitive issues as family
exchanges, formal acknowledgement of the ROK's sovereignty, and
acceptance of the U.S. military presence on the peninsula.

As for multilateral institutions, the DPRK can be expected gradually to
develop a taste for participating in various Asian fora on economic
cooperation and security.

3. Reaction to the Summit within the DPRK

The summit will certainly boost Kim Jong-il's prestige among the ruling
elite in Pyongyang. Prior to this move, Kim Jong-il had not done much to
impress his associates with his ability to lead the nation to a better
future. On the contrary, after Kim Il-sung's death, the DPRK had slid
progressively deeper into a condition of economic and social crisis. It
had also increased its isolation within the international arena. Kim
Jong-il's lack of initiative and helplessness in the face of mounting
difficulties had created growing disenchantment among leading figures and
cadres within the regime. As a consequence, a number of prominent North
Koreans (party officials, diplomats, journalists, etc.) had defected to
other countries. The morale of those who stayed had declined markedly,
and some had even dared to conspire and challenge the supreme leader.
(Kim Jong-il responded by purging and executing them.)

Kim Jong-il's decision to reverse his passive foreign policy and to take
the very bold step of meeting President Kim Dae-jung immediately woke up
the entire North Korean establishment. There is now a definite air of
excitement, hope, and optimism in Pyongyang. Officials have developed
expectations that the inter-Korean summit will allow the DPRK to improve
its economic fortune, to acquire more food, clothing, and medicine for
its people, and to diminish the security threats facing the country.
Officials believe that long overdue economic reforms will follow and will
be accompanied by a relaxation of political controls.

Such expectations are reinforced by other recent initiatives by the
supreme leader: his first official trip to China and a forthcoming visit
to Pyongyang by President Putin, the first ever by a Russian head of

These diplomatic moves by Kim Jong-il are also raising the spirits of
ordinary North Korean citizens. Many of them have relatives in the South
and should be pleased by the news that Pyongyang is coming to terms with
Seoul. In addition, people are looking forward to possible relief from
their current economic hardships as a result of the country's opening.

4. The Summit's Impact on the Political and Economic Stability of Kim
Jong-il's Regime

The opening up of North Korea's Stalinist regime to Seoul and the outside
world certainly carries big risks. The traumatic experiences of Eastern
European communist regimes provide ample warning of the potential dangers
facing the DPRK.

It is precisely because of the tragic fate of the communist regimes in
Eastern Europe that Kim Jong-il has been so reluctant to introduce
reforms. On numerous occasions, Kim told foreign guests and his own
associates that any changes in the fundamental strategy of the DPRK would
result in the destruction of socialism and lead to chaos, poverty, and
foreign domination.

However, lately Kim Jong-il has obviously begun to reappraise the
situation. First, his regime simply cannot continue with its former
policies and hope to survive. The country has fallen into an abyss
because of them, making change an absolute necessity.

Second, Kim Jong-il cannot help recognizing that Asian communist regimes
that have embarked on courses of reform have managed to remain in power
and achieve impressive economic results. The examples of China and
Vietnam look increasingly attractive to Kim Jong-il, and the leaders of
these two countries have been working to convince Pyongyang of the
benefits of reform.

Third, the international environment, in particular the "sunshine policy"
of President Kim Dae-jung, gives North Korea a greater opportunity to
open its society without mortally threatening the North Korean regime.

Many Russian analysts believe that a cautious and gradual liberalization
of the DPRK's foreign and economic policies could allow the ruling regime
to survive and lead the country along the Chinese and Vietnamese models.
South Korea is no longer anxious to "absorb" the DPRK. Instead, it
prefers gradual improvements in North Korea's economy, living standards,
and political conditions. The ROK is prepared to develop intensive
economic ties with a reforming DPRK, and other foreign investors are
likely to follow.

The North Korean economy is relatively small, yet has abundant natural
resources, a relatively well-developed industrial base, and a labor force
willing to work for low wages. Thus, it seems possible that the North
could quickly achieve economic progress while maintaining political

5. Chinese Appraisals of the Inter-Korean Summit

Chinese officials are glad that the summit has finally taken place.
However, they are not sure that the summit will lead to a real reduction
of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and to full-fledged ties between the
North and the South.

Beijing thinks that Kim Jong-il is still hesitant to open his country
because he fears the potential effects on the regime. Chinese analysts
also know that he is very stubborn and considers it below his dignity to
follow the Chinese model. Symptomatic of this nationalism is the fact
that Pyongyang remains secretive and reluctant to share its plans even
with China, its sole ally.

>From Beijing's point of view, Washington will certainly be looking for
pretexts to ruin the DPRK-ROK detente because of American ideological
biases, the logic of domestic American politics, and the constant search
of the U.S. military-industrial complex for an enemy. Therefore, Chinese
analysts believe that the United States will continue to provoke North
Korea, trying to push it into a traditional isolationist mood.

Finally, Chinese analysts believe that conservative circles in South
Korea will contribute to further tensions on the peninsula.

6. Russian President Putin's Visit to the DPRK

President Putin's decision to become the first Russian head of state to
visit the DPRK has been received by Russians as a logical step. During
the last decade of the 20th century, Moscow managed to improve relations
with virtually every state in the Asia-Pacific region. The only
exception was North Korea, where the trend was reversed, with relations
worsening dramatically under the Yeltsin government. President Putin
wants to develop normal relations with all states, especially neighboring
ones, irrespective of ideological issues.

Many believe that it is high time, within the context of Russian
strategy, to repair relations with Pyongyang, given that it may be
embarking on more open and more reform-minded policies. While Russia is
not yet ready to extend economic aid to its former ally, many feel that
Moscow can at least become more active diplomatically in competing for
influence on the peninsula. In the new and emerging environment, the
DPRK is already expanding its ties with the United States, Japan, Italy,
and other countries.

Russian analysts believe that an enlarged Russian presence in North Korea
could be useful to Pyongyang and to the peace process on the peninsula.
Reinforced contacts with Russia will help the DPRK feel more self-
confident and consequently encourage it to behave in a more flexible
manner with other states.

7. Pyongyang's Missile Potential and American Plans for NMD and TMD

Russian experts have come to the conclusion that a North Korean long-
range missile arsenal does not yet exist. But they believe that if
Pyongyang chooses to pursue the goal of acquiring such an arsenal, it may
be able to build a credible long-range (two to three stage) missile in at
best five to 10 years. However, Russian analysts believe that there is a
strong possibility that the DPRK leadership will abandon its long-range
missile effort in exchange for economic aid and investment from the
United States. Already the North Koreans have hinted that they are ready
to halt production of tactical missiles for delivery to Iran and Syria in
return for "adequate material compensation" from Washington.

In view of the above, Russian experts find U.S. attempts to justify their
NMD and TMD programs by citing the supposed North Korean missile threat
to be "absolutely groundless."

8. North Korean Refugees in China

The number of refugees in northeastern China continues to grow as North
Koreans flee from malnutrition and famine in their country. The refugees
complain that they have spent years subsisting on a diet of grass and
shredded bark mixed with an occasional spoonful of rice. They describe
train stations in the DPRK as crowded with homeless people who sleep in
the waiting room seats or on floors that are crawling with vermin.
Malnourished children lie down in the streets to die.

Of the estimated 30,000 North Koreans in China's three northern
provinces, over 75 percent are females who were sold to Chinese as wives
or prostitutes. This trade is helped by the fact that many women in
China's Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture had left their villages for
Chinese cities in hopes of finding better jobs. This forces ethnic
Korean farmers in rural areas to struggle to find brides.