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A new working paper by Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland for the Peterson Institute for International Economics suggests that Kim Jong-un's early economic policy moves in the economic sphere “were focused on re-enforcing controls.”
Most surprising of all this, writes my colleague Jane Perlez, is “how Mr. Kim has thumbed his nose at China, whose economic largess keeps the government afloat.” When a senior Chinese diplomat went to North Korea and warned Mr. Kim against a ballistic missile test, Jane says, “the new leader went ahead anyway.”
Mr. Kim, not yet 30, seems to have deftly consolidated his hold on state power since his father’s death in December. He appears fully in command of the political, military and diplomatic levers.
And some of his regime’s first policy moves in the economic sphere “were focused on re-enforcing controls” from the central government, according to a new paper by Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland for the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
They suggest that the regime could impose a return to a more centrally planned economy, as we have seen before. Such a trend, which might well include a crackdown on the private, shadow-economy markets that are predominantly run by women, “could have the effect of once again marginalizing North Korea’s women.”
Mr. Haggard and Mr. Noland report that disproportionate numbers of women are now being laid off from jobs at North Korea’s state-owned enterprises because “working for the state is considered more politically advanced ‘man’s work.’ ”
As a result, women have moved into the markets, which are closed to men and operate quasi-legally in North Korea’s grudgingly hybrid economy. The regime views these markets — and the women who run them — with “an ambivalent if not actively hostile posture,” Mr. Haggard and Mr. Noland write.
“In other settings, this newfound freedom might be empowering,” they say, but the women traders have frequent run-ins with the police and, therefore, the North’s harsh penal system. Corruption is rife. Bribing police officers and state officials is common. “In short, the increasingly male-dominated state preys on the increasingly female-dominated market.”