North Korea: Imagining the Future

21 07 2011

A Collaborative Workshop (USYD, UTS, ANU, Kookmin University)
10am – 2pm Friday, July 22
Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre
Level 3, MaryAnn House, University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), 645 Harris Street, Ultimo, Sydney

North Korea’s (DPRK) destiny over the coming years will have a profound impact on the stability of the entire Asia-Pacific region. Changes are likely to happen in North Korea over the coming years, and whatever direction they take, these changes will have far-reaching implications for all the other countries of the region.

This workshop aims to create a flexible forum in which leading experts can explore possible scenarios for future change in North Korea over the period to 2020, and consider the implications of each scenario for North Korea’s neighbours.

Focus will particularly be directed to economic and social change, including the future of the market economy, consumption patterns, the movement of people (both within and across North Korea’s frontiers) education, media and gender relations.

The workshop will be opened by the preeminent scholar in North Korean studies Professor Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in Seoul and author of three books on North Korea, including “North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea”. Presentations and panel discussions will include those by Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki (ANU), Professor Choi Hyaeweol (ANU), Emma Campbell (ANU), Dr Kyungja Jung (UTS), Dr Bronwen Dalton (UTS), Mary Nasr (USyd), and Dr. Leonid Petrov (USyd).

This workshop is funded by the ARC Asia Pacific Futures Research Network and the University of Technology, Sydney’s Centre for Cosmopolitan Civil Societies (CCS). Other sponsors are the Australian National University’s Korea Institute, and the University of Sydney.

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In this scenario the succession from father to son will pass so smoothly that nothing will change in North Korea. Transfers of powers may begin sooner than the death of Kim Jong Il, perhaps symbolically on Kim Il Sung’s 100th anniversary in April 2012. North Korea will not be torn apart by a battle between the state and markets. The two over time will establish an uneasy but symbiotic relationship. The state will continue to consider the markets as parasites and vice versa, but each will learn to exist with the other.

Following the death of Kim Jong Il a power struggle within this elite ensues. Or the power struggle may come early in the leadership of Kim Jong Eun as some within the elite begin to doubt the leadership capabilities of Kim Jong Un and instead promote his brother Kim Jong Nam or even a military junta to lead the country instead. No winner comes out of the power struggle and a power vacuum at the top immediately causes problems elsewhere in the system. As the scenario progresses, North Korea implodes in rebellion and even more devastating famine. The boundaries between North and South Korea crumble, and reunified Korea is rebuilt with economic aid from the United States and other countries. Indeed, this is a scenario of destruction and revival, where far-sighted leaders work together to build a peaceful new peninsula out of the ashes of a collapsed North Korean regime.

In this scenario the succession from father to son coincides with dramatic floods and system failures that lead the country once again into a long and devastating famine. Millions die. Unable to show leadership a power struggle against Kim Jong Eun ensues. As soon as the regime in North Korea starts to totter, China will intervene. South Korea provides food aid and also discretely supports financially China – seeing it as much cheaper that absorbing all costs of unification which it predicts will be over $3 trillion over 10-25 years, not to mention its fear of a mass southward exodus of North Koreans.

Guided by its Chinese neighbour North Korea gradually instutionalises capitalism. The decision to go the capitalist road is pragmatic and seen as the best way to maintain control as well as access much needed capital. The process begins with more formal recognition of the “state capitalist sector” The mix of socialism and capitalism brings economic progress to the cities, creating a new bourgeoisie from within the ranks of incumbent state enterprise managers and powerful segments of the party-state bureaucracy. The US supports this pragmatism and supports the World Bank in providing loans to North Korea, China and Japan facilitate discussions between North and South Korea and the development of SEZs throughout the DPRK. With cheap labour from North Korea becoming increasingly attractive to South Korean businesses, the barriers between the two Koreas starts to fall. As the North Korean people are touched by economic opportunities, new challenges emerge with petty crime, counterfeiting, and labour issues mounting. Diplomatically the world accommodates this semi-socialist state and there is a degree of reconciliation between North Korea and its long-time enemies.