N.Korea expert says Kim Jong-un could lead reform in N.Korea

Posted on : 2010-07-15 12:21 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Park Han-shik says N.Korea seems focused on economic growth, and did not witness concerns about political stability

By Lee Je-hoon

“Kim Jong-un could become a figure like China’s Deng Xiaoping.”

These words reflected the sentiment of Park Han-shik, professor of the University of Georgia, during a visit to South Korea that followed a trip to North Korea from July 3 to 8. Park predicts that like Deng, the architect of China’s reform and openness policy, Kim Jong-un, third son and reported successor of Kim Jong-il, could be someone to lead changes in North Korea.

During an interview with the Hankyoreh at the Lotte Hotel in Seoul’s Sogong neighborhood, Park said that Kim Jong-un is expected to assume a major party role at the Party Representatives’ Assembly.

“He seems likely to emphasize building ‘economic power,’” Park said. “North Korea’s domestic policy of late seems to be rather tilted toward economic development.”

Park also reported going to the electronic library at Kim Il Sung University and seeing a handwritten message from Kim Jong-il reading, “Set foot on my land and see the world.” Park said that he sensed North Korea’s interest in the outside world and its determination to engage in interchange.

Regarding speculation in South Korea, the United States and Japan about Kim Jong-il’s ill health and the possibility of a sudden upheaval in North Korea, Park called this “purely the imaginings of the outside world.”

“Based on what I observed, North Koreans are not frightened about political stability and power succession issues,” Park said. “Instead, there is a lot of interest in cultivating the economy.”

He also noted that there was much speculation about a possible crisis, such as a North Korean collapse, when the Kim Jong-il regime began in 1994, but responded, “It has now been sixteen years and nothing has happened.”

“There are likely to be fewer factors of unrest after Kim Jong-il’s death than there were after the death of Kim Il-sung,” Park said.

Park also spoke in regards to the Cheonan issue that has rocked the Korean Peninsula during the first half of 2010.

“The truth could come to light at any time if there is a careful examination by institutions and organizations with international credence,” Park said. “The South Korean government should pursue a ‘post-Cheonan policy’ through inter-Korean interchange and the resumption of humanitarian aid, since this would benefit North Korea and would also help lower the crisis level for us as well.”

Park deplored the Lee Myung-bak administration’s failure to provide food aid to North Korea for three years in a row, even as it examines the potential use of surplus rice as animal feed. “What kind of divine punishment policy is that when members of the same people are suffering from a food shortage?” he asked.

In addition, Park spoke about the U.S.’s North Korea policy under the Barack Obama administration.

“It has been U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s policy so far, and her code does not agree with Obama’s,” said Park. “It is difficult to foresee improvements in North Korea-U.S. relations with Hillary Clinton at the helm in North Korea policy.”

However, Park also predicted that as Obama strengthens his base in the Democratic Party, an “Obama doctrine” implemented in the near future could lead to direct dialogue with North Korea.

Park is a veteran scholar of international political affairs who has focused his research on the “political philosophy and the theory of peace” and helped to arrange visits to North Korea by former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter in 1994 and Bill Clinton in 2009. Former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg called him “the architect of US-DPRK relations.” Park has made around fifty visits to North Korea to date. In April, he received the Gandhi, King, Ikeda Award, given to figures that have dedicated themselves to world peace. Park was born in Harbin, China, in 1939 and studied in the Department of Political Science at Seoul National University and the University of Minnesota, where he earned a doctorate in political science. He became a professor at the University of Georgia in 1970, and he is currently the university’s only “Great Professor.”

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