[Excerpts of an opinion piece by Andrei Lankov, professor of Korean Studies at Kookmin University, Seoul]
There is big news coming from North Korea recently, though it has gone largely unnoticed. The so-called “May 30th Measures”, jointly issued early this year by the North Korean cabinet of ministers and the Central Committee of the Korean Worker’s Party, is revolutionary.
It seems that, at long last, North Korea has decided to begin Chinese-style reforms. Kim Jong-un is … attempting to transform his country into a developmental dictatorship, largely similar to present-day Vietnam or China.
This decision did not come out of the blue. Indeed, it agrees very well with what Kim Jong Un and his advisers have quietly been doing over the last three years – albeit the slow-motion transformation of the country has attracted little attention from outside world.
The first significant step was the introduction of the so-called “June 28th Measures”. These measures were introduced in 2012, allowing North Korean farmers to create their own production teams of five or six people, … a signal that individual households should register as “production teams”. Such teams were given a plot of land, the assumption being that they would toil the same area for several consecutive years. The produce would henceforth be split 70:30 between the state and the production team (ie the family). Up until then, North Korean production teams had been much larger, and all produce had to be submitted to the state in exchange for a fixed daily grain ration that was allocated to every farmer.
In essence, this reform marked a seismic shift: It marked the first step towards the reprivatisation of agriculture. The year 2013 (the first year that the reforms were fully in force) brought the best harvest that North Korea has seen in decades. The world media, predictably enough, missed the entire story, but in 2013, North Korea, for the first time since the late 1980s, produced almost enough food to feed itself.