People's livelihood becoming key political issue in DPRK#China Newsweek#-Sino-US

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People's livelihood becoming key political issue in DPRK

About half a year after a joint team competed in the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February for the first time, a joint team of the two Koreas won the women’s 500-meter canoe competition at the Asian Games in Indonesia on August 26.

Also, two rounds of an inter-Korean family reunion event were held at the Mount Kumgang resort in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in August.

These latest moves are consistent with the change in the DPRK policy since the beginning of this year that has included Kim Jong-un’s visits to China, a meeting between Kim and Republic of Korea President Moon Jae-in in April and the DPRK-US summit in May.

DPRK is undergoing changes to improve its relationship with the international community with a goal to create a more suitable environment for its economic development, which is its highest priority at present, according to some experts.

In the 32th issue of 2018, the China Newsweek magazine ran a cover story on a general picture of the DPRK society, changes in many aspects such as schools, factories and rural areas, and the ordinary people’s thoughts, showing a desire for change.

Below is an excerpt of the article.

Kim Jong-un, top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, has visited China and met with President Xi Jinping several times, met with Moon Jae-in, his counterpart for South Korea, and US President Donald Trump in the first half year.

DPRK has gained prominence in international politics. Kim’s unique and strong personal style and messages to the outside created a new image that it is intent on breaking the diplomatic stalemate and wholeheartedly seeking development.

What the domestic situation is in the DPRK?

A group of China Newsweek magazine reporters recently visited the DPRK’s factories, rural areas, hospitals, schools and communities, talking with professors, doctors, students, children, common people and soldiers.

The experiences of these reporters showed that the country has shown a thirst for change, especially, the strong desire coming from the top to the grassroots on the economic development and people’s livelihood improvements.

The desire to change is probably the beginning of change.

'Mallima' speed

During the visits to the schools, factories, hospitals and farms, reporters from China Newsweek experienced the high standard and high efficiency.

The Okryu Children’s Hospital in Pyongyang that was built in six months in 2013 is a comprehensive medical center to provide free services for children from across the country for free.

Kim Jong-un has visited the hospital three times during its construction and operation. The hospital has imported modern medical equipment, and uses remote consultation method for diagnosis. It also has a helicopter apron.

Vehicles with trumpets run on the streets in Pyongyang. The banners on the vehicles read, “achieving ‘Mallima’ speed in creation”. Mallima appeared frequently in the banners in the city.

The Mallima speed started to appear in the official media reports calling for a rapid economic development after the Seventh National Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea held in May 2016.

Mallima refers an advanced stage of ‘Chollima’, a horse with wings that can run 1,000 kilometers in a single day. The Mallima running 10,000 kilometers a day symbolizes moving at a faster speed.

In 1950s, the then DPRK leader Kim Il-sung called on workers to produce steel products with the Chollima speed while visiting a steel plant. A Chollima Movement was carried out during the country’s five-year plans.

The historical imprint of Chollima can be seen everywhere in the DPRK today, such as the Chollima line of Pyongyang Metro and the Chollima Statue.

DPRK officials said that the change from Chollima to Mallima showed that the country needs to run faster than before. “For the underdeveloped sections, when others walk, we need to run.”

Prudent progress

A shoe factory in Pyongyang that has a history of 30 years finished the modernization reform in September last year, establishing a self-developed automated production line with a capacity to produce different kinds of shoes.

The modernization helped the factory to cut power consumption by half. The solar panels on its roof have solved the problem of power shortage there, even providing extra electricity to other places.

Solar panels are common for some residential buildings and the lamp poles in Pyongyang. The solar-powered boats run on the Taedong River for commuters and visitors.

“Pyongyang could not fulfill power supply 24 hours a day but 20 hours,” a DPRK official said.

Quan Zhe’nan, a professor from Yanbian University, said in an article earlier this year that the main cause of DPRK’s power shortage is the lower utilization rate of the thermal power equipment while it has to rely on the hydroelectric power.

At the Seventh National Congress, Kim said the country would solve the power issue for the economic development during the five-year plan from 2016 to 2020, which is aimed at bringing the industrial sector back to normal development track, enlarging agricultural and light industrial production, and ultimately improving people’s livelihood.

As early as April 2012, Kim has started putting the people’s livelihood at the top of agenda. Some measures were take later, but these economic moves were shadowed by the nuclear crisis because of the frequent nuclear tests and missile launches.

In April this year, Kim announced that he would stop nuclear tests and missile launches and close the northern nuclear test site, turning his focus on economic development to improve people’s living conditions.

After that Kim’s inspection tours focused on the people’s livelihood. From the end of June, Kim visited more than 20 factories, farms and fishing farms at many places.

The slogans on the streets in Pyongyang also turned from military to economic ones, such as general economic campaign and taking the agriculture as the foundation.

Zheng Jiyong, director of the Korea Research Center at Fudan University, said, “It is certain that the DPRK’s determination to concentrate on economic development and improve people’s living standards is relatively firm at present.”

Andray Abrahamian, a scholar from Griffith University in Australia, said that the DPRK should not be expected to undergo a rapid and comprehensive reform, and it might take special economic zones to test new rules and gradually change rules to adapt to the economic development.

Engaging the world

In the past year, the UN Security Council tightened sanctions against the DPRK, which influenced the exports of its coal, sea products and textiles, but tourism was not under the sanctions, which has become an important way for the country to earn money.

In 2014, the DPRK launched the Mount Kumgang - Wonsan tourism area plan, trying to connect Mount Kumgang and the eastern coastal area. Different from the natural scenery of Mount Kumgang, Wonsan will be built as a resort featuring fishing, yachting and diving.

Except for the Wonsan tourism area, the DPRK also promoted tourism products relating to skiing, surfing, cycling, aerobatics, international marathon and golf, aiming to attract groups of foreign visitors.

The DPRK has renovated and newly built more than 680 sports venues.

On July 13 and 14, an international seminar was held at Rason, a special economic zone in the DPRK, involving experts from the DPRK, South Korea and Russia.

It is reported that representatives from South Korea visited the port there and talked with the DPRK representatives about the possible economic cooperation.

A team from South Korea’s transportation department inspected the railway lines at eastern and western coastal areas between July 20 and 24. The results showed that the basement and the tracks are generally in good conditions. The two Koreas planned to improve the signaling and communication facilities.

Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK, visited Russia to attend the FIFA World Cup opening ceremony in June, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. During his stay in Russia, he met with Russian officials and talked about the economic and technological cooperation.

DPRK delegations also visited China, touring Beijing, Shanghai, Shaanxi and Zhejiang provinces to learn deeply about the economic development situation and discuss the economic cooperation plans.

The DPRK’s proactive diplomacy has gained it some good responses and results. A South Korean official said in May that the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development expressed to join in, if the DPRK carries on opening up and reform.

But the US is considering more sanctions, and the implementations of UN sanctions go against the goodwill, said Zheng Jiyong. The cooperation could only happen in the field of people’s livelihood, such as tourism, culture and sports.

If the sanctions were not lifted, the DPRK’s economic development would remain at the current level, or even go backwards, Zheng said.

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