Tuesday, April 2, 2013

North Korea elevates reformer to prime ministership

Anybody familiar with North Korea knows that at the same time they try to reach out, or at least pretend to reach out, they also lambasting you in their media. North Korea watching is an exercise in sifting through contradictions.

And it appears we may be witnessing another one of those contradictions. As North Korea ratchets up tensions on the Korean Peninsula, they're quietly promoting to the (largely symbolic) premiership somebody who might actually be the person who could turn Kim Jong-Il and into North Korea's Gorbachev or Deng Xiaoping. 

Of course, this might turn out to mean absolutely nothing in terms of North Korea's potential for reform, and instead might just be a sign that Kim Jong-un's faction is solidifying his control over the country.

From the Los Angeles Times:

North Korea, in break from bluster, elevates reformer

SEOUL - SEOUL — North Korea's parliament on Monday approved the appointment of a new premier seen by outside experts as an economic reformer, a rare sign of moderation from the country after days of bellicose statements.

The appointment in Pyongyang came one day after top party officials adopted a declaration making nuclear arms and a stronger economy the nation's top priorities.

The U.S., meanwhile, announced it had sent F-22 stealth fighter jets to participate in annual U.S.-South Korean war games that North Korea calls preparation for an invasion. The new South Korean president, who has a policy meant to reengage Pyongyang with talks and aid, told her top military leaders Monday to set aside political considerations and respond strongly should North Korea attack.

The reemergence of Pak Pong Ju as premier at an annual spring parliamentary session is seen by analysts as a clear signal that leader Kim Jong Un is moving to back up recent statements vowing to focus on strengthened economic development. The U.N. says two-thirds of the country's 24 million people face regular food shortages.

Pak served as the North's premier from 2003 to 2007, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry. He was fired because of a proposal for an incentive-based, hourly wage system deemed too similar to U.S.-style capitalism, Japan's Mainichi Shimbun newspaper reported in 2007. Pak replaces Choe Yong Rim, who is 82.

"Pak Pong Ju is the face of economic reform, such as it exists — reform with North Korean characteristics as they say," said John Delury, a professor and North Korea analyst at Seoul's Yonsei University.

Pak's appointment could be a message to the outside world that North Korea wants to calm tension and focus more on economic revitalization, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea analyst at Seoul's Dongguk University.

Pyongyang has reacted with anger to the U.S.-South Korean military drills and to a new round of U.N. and U.S. sanctions that followed its Feb. 12 underground nuclear test, the country's third. Analysts see a full-scale North Korean attack as unlikely and say the threats are more likely efforts to provoke softer policies toward Pyongyang from a new government in Seoul, to win diplomatic talks with Washington and to solidify the young North Korean leader's military credentials at home.

On Sunday, Kim and top party officials adopted a declaration calling nuclear weapons "the nation's life," an important component of its defense, and an asset that wouldn't be traded even for "billions of dollars." Pyongyang cites the U.S. military presence in South Korea as a main reason behind its drive to build missiles and atomic weapons.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said the U.S. sent two F-22s to participate in the annual U.S.-South Korean military drills. Little said this is the fourth time F-22s have been deployed to South Korea. He said their participation in the exercises is meant to show U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea and to the region.

The full story can be viewed at: http://www.latimes.com/la-fg-wn-new-north-korean-premier-20130401,0,4827887.story?track=latiphoneapp

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