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North Korea's parliament meets amid nuclear tension, threats of war

By Hyung-jin Kim

Associated Press

Published: Monday, April 1 2013 6:45 a.m. MDT

Sunday marked the first time for Kim to preside over the committee meeting. The last plenary session was held in 2010, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry, and before that in 1993.

The plenary statement also called for strengthening the economy, which Kim has put an emphasis on in his public statements since taking power. The U.N. says two-thirds of the country's 24 million people face regular food shortages.

The decision means North Korea believes it can rebuild the economy while not neglecting its military because it now has nuclear and long-range missile capabilities, said analyst Cheong Seong-jang at South Korea's Sejong Institute. "It's like chasing two hares at once," he said.

The North also named former Prime Minister Pak Pong Ju as a member of the party central committee's powerful Political Bureau, a sign that he could again play a key role in the North's economic policymaking process. Pak reportedly was sacked as premier in 2007 after proposing a wage system seen as too similar to U.S.-style capitalism.

"Pak Pong Ju is the face of economic reform, such as it exists — reform with North Korean characteristics as they say," Delury said.

Economic changes won't be radical, Delury said, and, for the time being, they're mostly aspirational. One change could entail a shift of part of the country's massive military spending into the economy as a whole.

South Korea now faces a major decision. If President Park Geun-hye and her advisers react as her hard-line predecessor did, "then they're stuck in the same place, where North Korea limps along, but with regime stability," Delury said. If so, then "the risk of a conflict is like a dark cloud over the next five years of the Park Geun-hye administration. It's not such an appealing path for her."

Follow Foster Klug at www.twitter.com/APKlug .

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