|President Moon Jae-in, right, and first lady Kim Jung-sook wave before leaving Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, for a seven-day state trip to Brunei, Malaysia and Cambodia, Sunday afternoon. Yonhap|
Moon begins seven-day state trip to Brunei, Malaysia and Cambodia
By Kim Yoo-chul
When North Korean leader Kim Jong-un toured the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, he saw a country worthy of emulation and articulated his determination to improve the North's impoverished economy.
Quoting direct comments from Kim, the North's Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Saturday that he ordered officials to put a greater emphasis on improving the people's quality of life.
"No revolutionary tasks stand before us other than the improvement of the economy and people's daily lives," Kim said.
The KCNA did not say whether the comments were a result of reports from an economic delegation led by Kim Pyong-hae and Oh Su-yong to the Vietnamese industrial city of Hai Phong and popular tourist attraction Halong Bay. Kim and Oh are thought to have the authority to report directly to the North Korean leader on issues related to the economy.
It remains to be seen whether the top North Korean officials used the Hanoi summit to observe the Vietnamese version of capitalism ― a mixture of communism and capitalism. They stayed at the lavish Melia Hotel, and enjoyed takeaways from McDonald's, as they reportedly did during Kim's first summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore last year.
Despite the failure of the second summit, the North's leader is reportedly maintaining "strategic patience," with political analysts in Seoul opining that he is "more inclined" toward a mixture of Chinese and Vietnamese-style liberalization.
They said Kim plans to expand the middle class, create a strong manufacturing sector and nurture a young population, three core points ― in their view ― to keep a communist driven economy working.
"It seems apparent North Korea will not test missiles or rockets that could launch non-military satellites because the leadership acknowledges this would jeopardize Kim-Trump relations," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
"North Korea will continue to prioritize regime stability, but wants to loosen the state grip in some business areas to improve domestic development."
But concerns remain as recent commercial satellite imagery of a facility near Pyongyang indicated preparations could be underway for a missile test or the launch of a rocket.
NPR reported the images were of a site known as "Sanumdong," ― a facility where the North assembled some of its long-range inter-continental ballistic missiles and satellite launching rockets. But news of the recent activity does not mean the North plans to resume building rockets, Yang said.
According to some think tanks, the North appears to be undergoing economic difficulties, although they say there is no sense of a widespread, general crisis yet.
They added this could be seen by the North asking for a partial lifting of economic sanctions so that joint inter-Korean economic and business projects could proceed.
A senior presidential aide said Sunday that after the Hanoi summit, officials from Seoul asked their U.S. counterparts involved in denuclearization talks to allow for an early resumption of operations at the Gaeseong Industrial Complex as a reciprocal measure to persuade the North to return to negotiations.
Cheong Wa Dae said President Moon Jae-in planned to use his state visits to Malaysia, Brunei and Cambodia to win backing from the heads of the states for his peace initiative on the Korean Peninsula.