After decades of collectivized agriculture, North Korea appears likely to open up to partial privatization of the agricultural sector.
The new privatization policies are not yet confirmed, but reports from top North Korean officials imply that the reforms will almost certainly pass. On Tuesday, September 25, North Korean parliament will convene and likely clear up the doubts. The very fact that parliament is convening for the second time this year indicates that something out of the usual has likely occurred; parliament meetings in North Korea are sporadic, infrequent, and largely unproductive due to the North Korean military and Kim Jong-un’s undue power in North Korea.
This appears to be one of a series of steps toward capitalist, free market reform that North Korea is set to adopt from China. Ever since Kim Jong-un came to power, North Korea has grown ever more dependent on China for trade and foreign relations. It has embarked on a remarkably different path from that which it followed under Kim Jong-un’s predecessors Kim Il-sung and Kim-Jung.
Obviously, the question now arises: to what extent will North Korea continue to develop. While Kim Jong-un will almost surely allow for economic development, he will be hard-pressed to stagnate any potential diplomatic or political developments.
The most significant political and diplomatic trends that Kim Jong-un will be forced to uphold include anti-Western foreign policy, a swollen military budget, propaganda campaigns touting his regime, and aristocratic single-party rule. The fact of the matter is that Kim Jong-un is quite unpopular among the politically powerful KPA (Korean People’s Army), the North Korean military, who is allegiant mainly to the country’s First and Supreme Leader Kim Il-sung and, to a lesser extent, Kim Jong-un. From his assumption of power, they have feared his reforms to the strictly controlled North Korean state, worrying rightly so that the reforms could jeopardize their power and role in North Korean society.
Despite the misconception of North Korea as an autocratic state, Kim Jong-un has relatively little power for a dictator. He is entirely at the mercy of the KPA who could usurp power from him at any given moment. As such, any reforms he makes will be limited. Kim Jong-un would never dare to make political or diplomatic reforms to North Korea. Even the economic reforms he makes will likely be limited. A North Korean farmer claimed that Kim Jong-un would allow farmers to take 30%-50% of their crop output each year for private use. It is unclear on what basis he has made these claims. In all likelihood, even if Kim Jong-un does privatize the agricultural sector, there will be no paradigm economic shift. It seems unlikely that any farmer in North Korea would be able to use more than 10% of output for private use. Kim Jong-un is one of North Korea’s most astute leaders and will surely adhere to his political power limits.