Experts Differ Over N.Korea’s Economic Openness


A lawmaker of the pro-government Uri Party has said the North Korean economy has taken a step toward economic openness.

But North Korea watchers still remained suspicious as to whether the Pyongyang regime has the genuine determination to carry out market-oriented economic reform.

“I got the strong impression that the North is striving toward economic reform during my visit to Pyongyang,” said Rep. Choi Sung of the Uri Party in a telephone interview with The Korea Times Monday.

Choi visited the North from May 14 to 18 with 130 South Korean business leaders to participate in fairs to attract external investment.

The Stalinist country is unlikely to follow in the footsteps the former Soviet Union took in the post-Cold War era, and therefore, its growth model will take a different form, Choi said.

“The North is seeking a tailored growth model by introducing an incentive-based system while maintaining its communist regime,” said the lawmaker who has visited the North 20 times.

He said the library of one of the elite universities in the North displayed a wide array of information technology related publications, and citizens were anxious to learn English.

“Clerks working at shops selling souvenirs looked very business-oriented and tried to sell as many products as possible to their customers,” he said.

Asked if he had a chance to talk to any North Korean officials if they share his view, Rep. Choi said he had not.

He said it was very evident the North was moving toward economic openness.

His view, however, is at odds with what most North Korea watchers have expressed through media reports.

The Yonhap News Agency reported on May 18 that former North Korean Prime Minister Pak Pong-ju was removed and made manager of a chemical complex because his capitalism-oriented stance fueled objections from senior North Korea officials.

Pak was named manger of the synthetic fiber complex in South Pyongan Province, the report said.

Citing unidentified sources, the report said the former premier had called on the North to introduce an incentive-based system into its economy.

The conservative Chosun Ilbo newspaper supported the observation in an article published on May 19, saying that key officials calling for introducing an incentive-based system in the North have been demoted since the 1990s.


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