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"Deciphering North Korea's New Year's Address: The Real Road Ahead"

Jan. 1, 2013: In an image made from video, North Korean leader Kim Jong-eun makes his first New Year's speech in Pyongyang, North Korea.
AP Photo

"Deciphering North Korea's New Year's Address: The Real Road Ahead"

Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast

News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

January 2013

Author: John S. Park, Faculty Affiliate, Project on Managing the Atom

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security; Managing the Atom; Science, Technology, and Public Policy


Kim Jong-eun's New Year's Day address signaled a willingness to ease tensions with South Korea and focus on economic development, but how credible is this message?

North Korea specialist and MIT Stanton Nuclear Security Junior Faculty Fellow John Park argues that Kim's statement about improving the nation's economy is a red herring. Lacking basic countrywide infrastructure, North Korea is not able to sustain even modest reforms. Instead, the regime piggybacks off the large-scale well-developed transportation and commercial infrastructure in China to operate its web of state trading companies. This practice enables the regime to establish recurring sources of revenue. A top priority for Kim Jong-eun is to further develop this direct channel to the lucrative Chinese national economy. Such efforts will improve the fortunes of the elites in Pyongyang (the 1%) — not the welfare of the general population (the 99%).

As the Workers' Party of Korea deepens its institutional ties to the Communist Party of China, Park asserts that this trend will increase China's political and economic support of the regime. While Beijing's "Sunshine Policy with Chinese Characteristics" is likely to boost the nascent regime's stability, this approach raises serious implications for multilateral efforts to effect peaceful denuclearization in North Korea.

Listen to the interview:


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For Academic Citation:

Park, John S. "Deciphering North Korea's New Year's Address: The Real Road Ahead." News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, January 2013.

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