Institute of History, Archaelogy and Etnography, Far Eastern Branch of the Russian
Academy of Sciences, Vladivostok
Abstract: Assumption of power by new generation of North Korean leadership marked a new stage in the development of the DPRK along the socialist path. The process of changing nature and general direction of North Korean domestic and foreign policy after 2011 is studied. Key events are highlighted. The factors that influenced the decision of the North Korean leadership to continue the development of its nuclear project are analyzed. The facts of changes in cadre policy are noted. Interstate contacts became pragmatic and took into account the national interests of the DPRK. The coronavirus pandemic has had a negative impact on the socio- economic situation in the DPRK. The tactics of countering the coronavirus, chosen by the North Korean leadership, led to serious economic problems, but at the same time protected the country’s population from the spread of the pandemic throughout the DPRK.
Keywords: DPRK, China, coronavirus pandemic, food security problem, Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jong, COVID-19, Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK)
The end of December 2011 was the time when the third generation of the Kim family came to power in the DPRK. Over the next decade, the DPRK went through a difficult internal situation, accompanied by both, natural disasters and the coronavirus pandemic, as well as urgent and not always clear changes in personnel policy and the decision to launch all types of missiles and conduct nuclear tests.
During the reign of Kim Jong-un the DPRK carried out, along with new nuclear weapons, a test of a hydrogen warhead. This seriously disturbed the neighboring states and led to tougher economic sanctions, which significantly worsened the economic situation of the DPRK. At the same time, nuclear tests made the DPRK the center of attention of the international community, which had to take a closer look at the country’s domestic affairs and the state of its economy. Perhaps, by having conducted a series of nuclear weapons tests, the North Korean leadership pursued the goals of drawing attention to the plight of its undernourished population and receiving foreign humanitarian assistance, as well as trying to get rid of all international sanctions on the DPRK. However, these goals have been not achieved by the DPRK.
Nevertheless, foreign leaders began to pay more attention to the young North Korean leader. It resulted in a series of high-level meetings of Kim Jong Un with Chinese President Xi Jinping, US President D. Trump, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and Russian President V. Putin. Previously, no North Korean leader had held talks with so many foreign leaders in such a short period of time. Unfortunately, while for the leadership of the DPRK this fact was an important result of foreign policy and establishment of an opportunity for dialogue, for foreign leaders these meetings were of rather introductory nature and could not lead to fundamental changes in their policies towards Pyongyang. To a large extent, this was facilitated by great doubts about the ability of the young Kim Jong-un to govern such a complex country as the DPRK.
The youth and inexperience of the new leader has given rise to much speculation and skepticism about the future of the DPRK. 27- year-old Kim Jong Un was little known both inside and outside the country. His biography was too brief and unremarkable, except for the mention of studying in Switzerland. The seeming inexperience of Kim Jong Il’s young successor and the fragile base of support among the North Korean elite were seen abroad as a good reason why the economically backward and diplomatically isolated country was doomed to collapse. Foreign experts and observers were inclined to believe that in order to save the country, the North Korean elite would form a system of collective leadership, in which a small group of experienced advisers would support Kim Jong Un until the young leader turned into a universally recognized leader.
Ten years later, we can say that the DPRK, despite the many vicissitudes in the international environment and the difficulties in the domestic economic situation, not only survived, but was able to maintain its sovereignty and continue economic development. Kim Jong Un has become a charismatic leader recognized abroad.
From the very beginning of his reign, Kim Jong Un led his country independently. There has been no collective leadership as such . At the same time, there were no questions about the stability of the Kim Jong Un regime, although he himself criticized the economic decisions of the government and repeatedly acknowledged the difficulties of the country’s economic development [2, p. 171]. Due to economic problems, there have been frequent personnel changes in the top leadership. However, despite long-term international sanctions and a two-year self- isolation due to the coronavirus epidemic, the DPRK continues to maintain its sovereignty and independence in solving internal problems. This makes Kim Jong Un and his country a subject force that must be reckoned with and establish equal relations with. Kim Jong Un’s managerial experience can tell us about his ability to change under the pressure of ever-emerging circumstances and his future leadership style.
Most of all, foreign observers are alarmed by the constant change of leading personnel. They believe that the incessant personnel shuffling “means a continuous process of trial and error that cannot be predicted in advance” . At the same time, personnel reshuffles met the main requirement – the preservation of the state system headed by the Kim family. Young technocrats were appointed to senior positions. It is symbolic that none of the military party officials who accompanied the hearse with the coffin of Kim Jong Il retained their posts, but were removed in the early years of Kim Jong Un’s rule. He also decisively disposed of alleged or potential political rivals, such as his half-brother and his aunt’s husband Jang Sung Taek, for example.
Among the young nominees, it is necessary to single out the younger sister of Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jong (born 1992?). She appeared in her brother’s official circle in 2013–2014. It is not known what education she received and what position she was originally assigned to. It is known that in 2017-2018 she served as Deputy head of the ideological department of the WPK Central Committee. Since December 2019, Kim Yo Jong has been the head of the Department of Organization and Administration, which is responsible for making military-political and bureaucratic decisions in the WPK Central Committee.
Kim Yo Jong became a prominent political figure after attending Olympic Games in South Korea’s Pyeongchang in 2018 as part of the North Korean delegation. She became known as the “dove of peace” when she conveyed her brother’s message to South Korean President Moon Jae-in. In fact, she acted as her brother’s security adviser, accompanying him during the meetings with Moon Jae-in (April 2018). She also attended the DPRK-US summit in Hanoi and negotiations with the Vietnamese leadership (February- March 2019) [3, p. 179].
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