Back in 2013, Kim Jong Un publicly outlined his policy of byungjin — which roughly translates to “simultaneous” — as in developing nuclear capabilities and the economy at the same time. But this creates a contradiction for a poor country of 25 million with a small economy: Developing nuclear weaponry undermines economic development.
North Korea needs foreign investment and knows it. Its nuclear test and missile launches have brought a new round of United Nations sanctions and reinforced its status as a pariah state. China, which has protected North Korea in the past, supported the sanctions. Who’s going to do deals with the North now?
“It might have looked plausible to [Kim] that he could have it both ways, as he watched the China-North Korea relationship deepen at the end of his father’s era,” Haggard says. “… Even as trade was falling off with the rest of the world, he still had Kaesong and he still had the Chinese. But that’s why this sanctions move is different.”
While survival may be the top priority, the North Korean leadership seems concerned at some level with the outside world. “The North Korean side knows it suffers from a very serious credibility deficit in its public engagements with the world, and is changing to meet the information management challenges of the current era,” says Christopher Green, a regional researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands.