Dr. Paik Jang-hyun (Visiting Professor at Hanshin University, Steering Committee member at the Catholic Institute of Northeast Asia Peace -CINAP) US-ROK Summit (May 23, 2021) ⒸBBC During the US-ROK summit this past May 23, we could see the contours of the Biden administration’s policy towards North Korea. Regarding the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the Biden administration affirmed the necessity of “diplomacy and dialogue, based on previous inter-Korean and US-DPRK commitments such as the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration and the Singapore Joint Statement,” and one could expect negotiations to be forthcoming. Additionally, the appointment of Sung Kim, a moderate to whom the North has few objections, as Special Envoy for North Korea shows an active intention to dialogue with North Korea. Regarding a summit with North Korea, which the North wants, Pres. Biden said that he would not meet with Kim Jong Un unless he make sure that his team (‘the Secretary of State and others’) had negotiated specific commitments regarding the North’s nuclear arsenal, but that if the North’s position became clear after working-level talks, then he would be ready anytime for a summit. Further, in regards to human rights issues, which North Korea strongly protests, US policy had exclusively embraced the use of pressure, but a softening can be seen in its commitment “to continue facilitating the provision of humanitarian aid to the neediest North Koreans.” North Korea’s only response has been a speech by General Secretary Kim Jong Un on June 18 at the the 3rd Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in which he said they must be “ready for both dialogue and confrontation.” North Korea is also seen to have a hesitant attitude towards the American proposal for working-level talks. Why isn’t North Korea pursuing an agreement with the United States? Kim Jong Un’s economy first, realistic approach In April 2012, after Kim Jong Un explained that “It is our party’s resolute determination to let our people not tighten their belts again and enjoy the wealth and prosperity of socialism as much as they like,” he promoted his economy first policy. He was more active to pursue reform and opening up than his predecessor Kim Jong Il. His “Our style of economic management” and “Socialist Enterprise Responsibility Management System” policies were implemented in earnest since 2014. This system of economic management reduces central authority, expands the authority and responsibility of businesses, and allows a considerable extent of market economic activity. Additionally, since 2013, 22 economic development zones have been designated in various regions, exploring openness to the outside world. The attempt goes a step farther than the existing special zone policies in terms of significantly expanding open areas and diversifying investment attraction channels. Fall 2018, Chairman Kim Jong Un on a site visit to Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourism area, Kangwon Province (Rodong Sinmun) ⒸNews1 Since Kim Jong Un came into power, he has pursued consistency through normalizing of the party, administration, and military. In Jan. 2021, while explaining a policy of “People First” at the 8th Party Congress of the Workers' Party, he indicated that the unofficial “Military First” policy of the Kim Jong Il era was officially abandoned. In order to match this change, Kim Jong Un changed the rules of the Workers’ Party. According to the North Korean constitution Article 11, “the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conducts all activities under the leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea,” and follows a system of party dominance. Accordingly, you can say that the rules of the party are the highest standard, and since the 8th Party Congress key contents of the rules have changed. The passage defining “the urgent objective of the Workers’ Party of Korea” as “to perform the task of democratic revolution to liberate the people on a national scale” was deleted and replaced with “to actualize autonomous and democratic development of society on a national scale.” Additionally in the preamble, the passage which stated, “the Workers’ Party of Korea will actively support, encourage the struggle of the people of South Korea for social democratization and the right to life” was removed, and reference to “achieving joint prosperity of the Korean people” was added. In the main body of rules regarding the ‘duty of members,’ the passage which stated that members “must struggle actively to advance the reunification of the Fatherland” was deleted and not replaced with any alternative text. This implies a real abandonment of the Dec. 1945 ‘Democratic Base Theory’ (the theory that North Korea is a forward base for revolution in South Korea and the communization of the Korean Peninsula), a positive change in the framework of North-South relations. ⒸKorean Central News Agency / YONHAPNEWS North Korea’s severe economic crisis Regardless of the will of Kim Jong Un, North Korea cannot easily improve its financial situation due to a real lack of available resources. Far from improving, basic necessities have been insufficient since the closure of the border in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the price of rice has skyrocketed, and it is known that the economic situation is rapidly worsening. There are reports that people have starved to death in landlocked regions of North and South Pyongan Province. According to the Voluntary National Review (VNR) which North Korea submitted to the United Nations on July 13, they are suffering shortfalls in cereal production, energy, and necessary medical supplies due to sanctions and closure from international society, natural disasters, etc. They revealed that they “failed to meet the annual goal of 7 million tons of cereal production,” and “in 2018, their production of 4.95 million tons was the lowest figure in the past 10 years.” Moreover, it is said that drought has disrupted hydroelectric power production, worsening the already difficult energy situation. In the face of such a reality the failure of the 2018 Hanoi summit must have been particularly painful for Kim Jong Un. That’s because he had to return empty-handed to a people who were full of hope that an agreement with the United States would bring resolution to the economic difficulties they were facing. The dismissal in late 2019 of Ri Su-yong, chairman of the party’s Foreign Affairs Committee and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong-ho, the demotion and elimination from the Politburo of Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo-jong by the Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea, and the demotion of Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui must have been inevitable personnel measures to hold someone accountable for the failure of negotiations. Recently top executives have been frequently blamed as a measure to acknowledge public dissatisfaction. Under such conditions, who would dare to step forward to participate in negotiations without a guarantee of tangible results? What will it take to convince North Korea to negotiate with the outside world? Those who favor negotiation must have a stronger presence. For this, the food and medical supplies, etc. which North Korea desperately needs must be given without condition. A helping hand must be given when there is a need. When people are dying of starvation in North Korea, humanitarian aid is the way for peace to take root in the Korean peninsula; then exchange and cooperation can pave the way for reunification.