Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
The Choson Sinbo, a Japan-based pro-North Korean newspaper, reported on November 9 that the role and the authority of the North Korean cabinet are increasing, especially in the planning and implementation of North Korea’s economic policies.
“North Korea is establishing new order and actions to maximize the potential of its national economy. The cabinet-government system and the cabinet-oriented system are being strengthened as economy-related matters are decided in cooperation with the cabinet,” the newspaper said.
The newspaper also commented that many North Korean news outlets are reporting on DPRK Premier Choe Yong Rim’s activities in detail, including his frequent visits to economic units, saying that “the central and regional party committees are committed to provide support and encouragement to the cabinet and various administrative and economic institutions so the workers can assume responsible roles in the economy.”
Putting the cabinet in charge of the economic sector is a major break from the past, where the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) enforced strict restrictions and control over all administrative and economic institutions.
In addition, the news also suggests that the recent economic revitalization efforts are being stressed at a different level than in the past. The report also mentions that North Korea is promising to “boldly go forward with all projects beneficial to the people of North Korea.”
Many high ranking economic officials from the cabinet are quickly moving in to take high-ranking positions in the WPK. Typically, economic experts remain in the cabinet for many years to develop their expertise.
However, this is quickly changing, as can be witnessed from recent appointments in the WPK. Han Kwang Bok, the former vice premier and minister of electronics industry was recently appointed as a director in the central committee of the WPK. Kwak Bum Ki, who was the vice premier of the cabinet (from September 1998 to June 2010) was recently promoted to the position of party secretary and director of the WPK’s Finance and Planning Department (since this past April’s Party Conference).
These recent promotions in the economic departments of the WPK show that people are being replaced by high-ranking and experienced officials from the cabinet, particularly in the departments of light industry, finance and planning, and science and education.
These changes and promotions of economic experts suggest that heavier emphasis is being placed on economic development and improvement of the people’s livelihoods.
North Korea’s recent changes in the cabinet and the WPK — although limited only to the economic sector — indicates a major shift in the decision-making process. The WPK normally creates policy and the cabinet executes it. However, by placing officials equally across these two bodies, it appears as though efforts are being made to minimize the friction between the two organizations and increase the effectiveness of the economic policy through cooperation.