My name is Kim Jong Un and I’ve recently become leader of North Korea – what should I do next?

Having secured your position as paramount leader, at least nominally (but supported by your powerful aunt and uncle), you could and should…

First, in the realms of realistic possibility:

  • Allow people to openly trade and for local markets to operate without major restrictions (this will end much of the widespread hunger and buy you a lot of time from your own people – not that they ever mattered to your father).
  • Implement economic reforms entrusting economic policy to technocrats in the Cabinet who have visited China and know what could be done.
  • Implement agricultural reforms allowing farmers greater freedom to tend their own plots and for cooperatives to sell more of their produce in local markets keeping profits so that they can invest in farm inputs and feel motivated.
  • Ask for immediate food aid and farm inputs (seed and fertilizer) from SK and distribute it fairly.
  • Stop further military provocations and tone down propaganda rhetoric against SK (your only sympathetic friend to balance against China).
  • Not carry out another nuclear test as this is the one thing that can alienate Beijing on whom you most rely.
  • Start to make Military First politics a more abstract notion which is spoken of but practiced less.

In the realms of (our) ideal hope:

  • Stop hunting down and punishing border crossers and release all short-term prisoners.
  • Stop exporting slave labour to Russia’s Far East and China or at least improve their conditions.
  • Allow NGOs already operating in NK greater access to the provinces.
  • Normalize the gulag prison camps to administrative districts; allow in, or supply, aid and alleviate forced labour practices, executions and torture.
  • Implement more dramatic economic reforms following the Chinese and Vietnamese models which technocrats in your regime have already been studying.
  • Renounce pursuit of nuclear weapons (admittedly difficult in the light of Libya) to improve relations with SK and the international community.

In the realms of fancy:

  • Implement political reform along the lines of Burma.
  • Skip breakfast.

Admittedly, if you attempt economic reforms too fast, too early, you would run a high risk of coup d’état. However, this risk is to a large degree mitigated because you’ve already been officially raised to such a position that any attempt, even if successful, would throw the wider regime into chaos, something no one with any current vested interests (i.e. anyone potentially powerful enough to carry out a coup) would want.

Either way, you can strengthen your position by seeking Beijing’s help to initiate economic reforms.  Beijing would be overjoyed to see such developments in NK.  Unlike the West or Seoul, it would not attempt to instigate regime change because this would involve overthrowing its closest ally and lead to the instability it so massively fears.  Beijing wants to see more pragmatic, economically liberal leadership in Pyongyang: you just have to demonstrate the required pragmatism.

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