News / Asia

North Korea Denies Reform Effort

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a military parade to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the North's founder Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a military parade to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the North's founder Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a military parade to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the North's founder Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a military parade to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the North's founder Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.
SEOUL — North Korea is rejecting speculation any economic reform is getting underway in the reclusive and impoverished country.

Pyongyang is making it clear it considers unacceptable any assertions from officials in Seoul and foreign media that policy change, reform or opening of the country has begun.

Quoting an unnamed spokesman for a North Korean group, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, a television announcer declared that what he termed “ridiculous rhetoric” by South Korean officials reveal their “ignorance and sinister intention” against the North.

The announcer said the United States and South Korea, after decades of advocating reform and opening to impose their “corrupt” system, now seem “preoccupied by hallucinations that such a move is taking place” in North Korea.

A prominent defector from the North, Lee Yun-keol, says the late leader Kim Jong Il, expressed in his will that the words “reform” and “opening” will not be used.

Lee, chairman of the North Korea Strategic Information Service Center in Seoul, says the authorized phrase from Pyongyang is “economic reform management system.” But Lee says this change is not meant to make life better for the masses, but rather to benefit the privileged class. He says, for its survival, the North's leadership knows it must maintain the military-first policy because any true reform or opening would cause chaos for the government.

Meanwhile, North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission is issuing a separate warning to Washington. This comes after repeated accusations in recent weeks that the United States is behind an alleged plot by agents in the North to sabotage national monuments and statues.

The defense authority in Pyongyang said it would launch a physical counter-offensive to render ineffective America's strategic bombers and carrier strike forces.

Lee, who was a researcher at a North Korean state organization charged with extending the lives of the country's leaders, is not worried by this rhetoric.

Lee believes the threats are just a ploy to get more food aid and other desperately needed support from the outside world. Although North Korea is well-armed, Lee says its leaders are actually afraid to start a military conflict and do not have the economic resources to support a war.

North Korea has the world's fourth-largest standing army. It has never signed a peace treaty with the South following the three-year Korean war, which ended
in 1953 with an armistice that both sides have, over the years, repeatedly accused the other of violating.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

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