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In a recent East Asia Forum article (16 December 2015), eminent Korea watcher and academic Andrei Lankov (Kookmin University, Seoul) reviews the slow progress made in 2015 by North Korea’s cautious reforms.
His review starts by recounting a chance free conversation he had with a North Korean merchant, a woman in her forties who is the wife of a mid-ranking official and is running an import business dealing in consumer goods. When talking about the most desirable future for her country, her opinion on reform is a surprising one.
Lankov’s thoughfully provocative analysis uses the North Korean merchant’s opinion as a handy starting point from which to look at the positive results so far of the limited agricultural reforms in her country and the less successful start-stop reforms of industry. He contrasts these with the complete lack of reform on the political front in 2015.
Lankov’s understanding of all this is particularly interesting. In these limited reforms, overshadowed by a strengthening of political control by the North Korean government since the ascension of Kim Jong-un, Lankov appears to see a demonstration of strength rather than weakness and an unexpected level of realism and pragmatism in policy.