Friday 21 February 2014
When Kim Jong-eun succeeded his father, Kim Jong-il, two years ago there was hope that North-South relations would improve and that the six-party talks to resolve the nuclear issue that has dogged relations with North Korea could be resumed. This new young leader, it was hoped, would move North Korea on a path toward reconciliation with the international community and eventual normal relations with South Korea, the US and Japan.
In fact, the work necessary to move North Korea in that direction was done by his father, and memorialized in the September 19, 2005, Joint Statement signed by North Korea, which committed the North to comprehensive and verifiable nuclear dismantlement in return for security assurances, economic assistance, the provision of light-water reactors and, ultimately, normal relations.
Two years ago, there was guarded optimism that Kim Jong-eun would move North Korea in this direction, that he would surround himself with officials interested in improving the dire economic situation in the country and improving strained relations with South Korea, the US and Japan. The first few months fueled this optimism, with Kim Jong-eun replacing some of the hardline senior military officers close to his father, such as Army Chief of Staff Ri Yong-ho, and aligning himself and his government with people like his uncle Jang Sung-thaek, who was a senior Party official and the Vice Chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, reputed to be a moderate, close to China and interested in economic reform. Reports at that time of modest agricultural reforms and free-trade zones with China were encouraging.