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Special> Focus on Korean Peninsula> Beijing Review Exclusive> Opinion
UPDATED: February 25, 2013 NO. 9 FEBRUARY 28, 2013
Testing Limits
DPRK's pursuit of nuclear capability is more than a military strategy
By Mei Xinyu

In the diplomatic field, Kim met more foreign guests, including ambassadors, more often than his father during the past year. And he frequently appeared in public accompanied by his wife Ri Sol Ju—a rare occasion among past leaders of the country.

Generally speaking, the DPRK is indeed trying to switch its policy focus from an emphasis on the military to boosting its economy through the introduction of a market system and conducting reform, innovation and opening-up. The recent nuclear test and last December's missile launch made DPRK leaders feel much safer. They hope Western countries like the United States and Japan will realize they cannot control the DPRK, and instead turn to normalizing their relationship with Pyongyang. Speaking of innovation in his New Year address, Kim might realize a normalization of relations with the West by possessing nuclear capability, and follow up with economic expansion.

In fact, DPRK officials consider a military-first policy, space technology and nuclear development as essential in riding itself of a U.S. military threat, and also as the precondition for concentrating on economic growth.

Even at its worst times, the DPRK has never forgotten its economic construction and livelihood goals. In recent years, the DPRK has adopted a series of reform measures, showing an eager desire to further reform and development, especially after 2009.

'Nuclear for peace' strategy

The key to the DPRK's "nuclear for peace" strategy is limitation and timing. The DPRK should not forget that a smaller country doesn't have equal endurance regarding the same strategy of a bigger country. The rationality of the original intention of possessing nuclear weapons cannot cover the side effects and high cost. The worst side effect is that nuclear testing will damage the relationship between the DPRK and its most important neighbor, China. Uncertainties and turmoil during the process of acquiring nuclear capability will inevitably disturb China's obtained and cherished peaceful development environment. And Chinese decisionmakers and the public worry about possible nuclear leaks. Besides, China fears the DPRK's nuclear and space technology might be a hidden threat to China under unexpected circumstances.

After the recent nuclear test, the DPRK is faced with two options: one is to put exceeding resources into development of weapons of mass destruction; and the other is to stop at the right time to cement traditional relationships with China and Russia. It can use existing political and military strength and realize normalization of relationships with Washington and Tokyo through political measures, and turn to a focus of economic construction sooner. The second way is obviously a more practicable path for the original intention of going "nuclear for peace."

The DPRK is in a favorable environment for concentrating on economic development. China has basically completed its power shift. In Russia, Vladimir Putin, who consistently projects a hard exterior to the West, was reelected as president. And the DPRK's strategic partnership with Russia has been solid. Washington and Tokyo have begun to adjust their Korean policy after realizing that the DPRK is too stable to overthrow.

The DPRK has cultivated many personnel to manage the economy after 10 years of sending talented people to study abroad. This provides good conditions for Kim to carry out economic development, reform and opening up.

Moreover, the country's economy has generally recovered from the devastating blow brought on by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Its energy and power industry is the first sector to recover. Plus, China is transferring power to the DPRK to fulfill its demands. The promoted power supply has created preconditions for reviving the country's transportation and processing industries.

Considering the DPRK's active behavior, China and other countries must exert measured pressure to prevent Pyongyang from sliding in the wrong direction. At the same time, they should attempt to defuse the DPRK's anxiety about its security environment. The United States, Japan and the ROK must not carry out actions that could intensify or complicate matters. They must accept that regardless of the domestic situation in the DPRK, the result of the Korean War is as unchangeable as the result of World War II. The incoming Park Geun Hye administration should design more rational and workable policies in the region.

The author is an op-ed contributor to Beijing Review and a researcher with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation

Email us at: yanwei@bjreview.com

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