Demystifying The North Korea Economy
Co-authored by Lee Jongseok and Choi Eun-joo
Is North Korea actually changing? While they had different definitions of North Korea’s change, there seemed to be an underlying perception that North Korea is a closed, hostile military state resistant to change. Such an image of North Korea has solidified as North Korea continued to develop nuclear weapons, and in no time, the U.S. and other Western countries have come to establish policies on North Korea.
But North Korea today is in transition. Currently, North Korea is undergoing the most extensive structural change in its history across many areas, especially in the economy and society. Notably, the North Korean authorities are at the heart of this change. In April 2018, North Korea shifted its national strategy from “military-first” to “economy-building,” and since then, the change has become more noticeable. Everyone can see this change if they let go of strict standards with the attitude that “nothing should be considered a change unless North Korea’s political system embraces democracy.”
North Korea aspires to improve economic structure conducive to economic development by prioritizing the economy over the military and strives for international cooperation. To that end, North Korea has shifted its national strategy to promote economic reform and opening. We are witnessing a new North Korea - one that we could never imagine before. Given that North Korea is under the toughest sanctions, the changes are very astonishing, and at the same time, worrisome in that North Korea could withdraw from efforts to transform. In fact, the changes are so dramatic that they can challenge the existing perception that has been the basis for setting policies on North Korea.
We have collected data from various sources to confirm changes in North Korea. They include years of direct observation through site visits to North Korea, field research in Sino-North Korean border areas, analysis of North Korean archives, interviews with North Korean defectors, and a close examination and analysis of speeches and “field guidance” of the North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un. Based on these data, we have also systematically collected images of changes in production sites, construction sites, daily lives of ordinary people, and policy process of North Korea, tracking and analyzing them in chronological order. This book is the result of that quest. Seek Truth from Facts. This has been the motto of our North Korean research. We made every effort to be consistent with the motto in the process of writing this book in the hopes of helping readers better understand today’s North Korea as it is.
Publication date: November 2019