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Following in China’s footsteps? The political economy of North Korean reform

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 22:44 authored by Kevin GrayKevin Gray, Jong-Woon Lee
Since the coming to power of Kim Jong Un in 2012, the North Korea government has recently announced, and to some degree has implemented, a new set of economic management policies known as the June 28th measures in 2012 and the May 30th measures in 2014. Both of these sets of measures seek to build upon the abandoned reforms of the early 2000s through restructuring North Korea's highly inefficient collective farm and state-owned enterprise management system. In addition, the government has intensified ongoing efforts at building special economic zones for the purpose of attracting foreign investment. As such, the country is attempting to emulate the reforms adopted by China in the late 1970s. Although the success of these efforts is by no means guaranteed, they do serve to question mainstream analyses that suggest that Juche Self-Reliance or Son'gun Military First Politics ideologies will inhibit any genuine attempt at economic reform in North Korea. We argue, in contrast, that ongoing changes to North Korean state and society mean that, a cyclical stop and start rhythm to the reforms notwithstanding, such attempts at economic reform are likely to continue. However, we also argue that whilst the contemporary reform drive resembles and may indeed reproduce some of the successes of the Chinese experience, North Korea faces significantly greater challenges, including the greater decline of North Korean industry, local resistance to reform, and the dangers of inflation. Furthermore, North Korea faces a highly challenging external security environment that undermines the ability of the regime to attract investment and thereby potentially undermining the political standing of reformist elements within the country. Given this contrast with the international environment surrounding China's own reform experience, our analysis emphasises the importance of geopolitical conjuncture in shaping experiences of economic reform and of development more broadly.


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  • Published


Pacific Review




Taylor & Francis

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Department affiliated with

  • International Relations Publications

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  • Yes

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