September 1, 2000｜Korean Peninsula
President, East Asia Trade Research Board
I had opportunities to visit Pyongyang in November 1999 and in July 2000. Compared with my previous visit in September 1997, it was visible that the city was active and showing changes in many fields.
After the sudden death of President Kim Il Sung in 1994, there were various conjectures in the world mass media. One of the reasons was that General Secretary Kim Jong Il did not appear in public for mourning. In fact, during this period, it seems that General Secretary Kim was trying to secure a steady new system and working on policies for the new system.
In September 1997, when I was in Pyongyang, the new system might have been taking shape. Pyongyang was buzzing in preparation for the inauguration of the new Secretary General. However, the food and economic situation had hit the bottom and factories were fully in operation in only the processing industries with contracts with foreign companies.
In July 1998, the Kim Jong Il regime was brought to a close through the election of deputies of the Supreme People’s Assembly. In September, the Supreme People’s Assembly was held for the first time in nearly four years, at which a revised constitution was adopted and the administrative structure was reformed. Also, the economic policy was shifted towards energy, heavy industry and transportation. Also, General Secretary Kim Jong Il carried out large-scale reform of various policies formulated by the late president under the slogan of the so-called “Powerful Nation.” This included the implementation of adequate land planting of potatoes and other various agricultural products.
In April 1999, the second session of the 10th Supreme People’s Assembly was held. State budget and the Law on People’s Economic Plans were adopted, and members pushed to promote the new economic policy. Based on this new economic policy, enlarged and inefficient united factories were divided and the industrial structure was reformed. As a result, raw materials and electricity, which had been in rather short supply, began to reach focused major factories efficiently, and production in industrial fields increased by 20% from January to June 1999 compared with the same period of the previous year. Following Kim’s slogan, the electricity issue also began to be resolved through the construction of small and medium sized power stations in regions. Large-scale power stations have also improved their operations significantly, assisted by 80 thousand tons of crude oil provided by China in January 1999.
In the agricultural field, production increased by 40% compared with the previous year through potato cultivation, seed improvement, double cropping, etc. Since a critical status could be avoided for the time being, this boost occurred. I also saw people on bicycles, which I had never seen before.
Then, in June 1999, a delegation was sent to China led by Kim Yong Nam, Chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly and the second most powerful person in the DPRK. The economy of the DPRK achieved real progress through strengthening ties with China, and through China providing heavy oil and cokes to support the economy.
With greater confidence, having overcome the economic crisis for the time being, the DPRK entered into diplomatic relations with Italy, Australia and the Philippines. The DPRK now also has an active diplomatic policy, visible in the reopening of talks on the normalization of diplomatic relations with Japan, the inter-Korean summit meeting, the General Secretary’s visit to China, accepting President Putin’s visit to the DPRK, participating in the ASEAN Regional Forum, etc. These policies have created certain achievements and have also greatly contributed to the improvement of the image of General Secretary Kim Jong Il and the DPRK itself.
A crucial issue for the DPRK is how much it will be able to obtain actual benefits of economic exchange with the ROK, Japan, etc., in order for the economy to seriously grow, based on these achievements.
[Translated by ERINA]