Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

DPRK on the economic reform path

By Hu Mingyuan (China Daily) Updated: 2013-12-09 07:19

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea has once again grabbed the headlines, this time for two different reasons. The first is the detention (and release on Dec 7) of Merrill E. Newman, an 85-year old American who took part in the Korean War, during his visit to the DPRK. The second is the signing of a decree by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Dec 2 imposing sanctions on the DPRK in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2094 of March 7, 2013.

The decree signed by Putin bars Russian citizens and organizations from doing business to help or in any way provide financial aid for Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs. According to the decree, all DPRK ships now have to undergo inspection before entering a Russian port and Russian authorities will "increase vigilance" on DPRK diplomats.

By imposing sanctions, Moscow is expected to help prevent Pyongyang from acquiring nuclear and missile technology, and force it to abandon its nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missile development programs. The move is aimed at preventing a nuclear crisis, which could harm Russia's interests.

After conducting its third nuclear test, the DPRK announced a new strategy of carrying out economic reform and strengthening its nuclear program simultaneously, saying it had the right to develop nuclear weapons.

If the DPRK succeeds in its nuclear weapons' program, it could have a domino effect in East Asia, with countries such as Japan and the Republic of Korea joining the nuclear race and turning the region into a tinder box.

Besides, the volatile security situation, thanks to the DPRK's nuclear program, has prompted the United States to expedite the implementation of its "pivot to Asia" strategic policy and consolidate its military alliance with Japan and the ROK, which is also expected to act as deterrent against Russia.

Using Pyongyang's military threat as an excuse, Tokyo, too, has accelerated its military buildup, which again is not good news for Moscow that has a territorial dispute with Tokyo over the Southern Kurils. So Putin signed the decree to impose sanctions on the DPRK not only to prevent a nuclear arms race in East Asia, but also to better defend Russia's national interests.

The fact is, amid this hullabaloo the DPRK's new economic policy has failed to get enough press. On Nov 21, the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK issued a decree to set up 14 additional economic development zones (EDZs) apparently to attract more foreign investment. Different from the four existing central special economic zones, the new EDZs will be smaller, less than 4-square-kilometer each.

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