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(News Focus) N. Korea's 'byeongjin' policy not viable in long term: experts

All News 10:43 January 27, 2016

SEOUL, Jan. 27 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's dual pursuit of nuclear weapons development and economic growth may have a short-term impact on boosting its moribund economy, but the policy could be a stumbling block for sustainable growth, experts here said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been pursuing his signature policy of nuclear and economic development in tandem, commonly known as the "byeongjin" policy. Seoul and Washington have warned that the North's dual-track policy is a dead end.

The North's leader did not make any reference to North Korea's nuclear weapons program in his New Year message, spawning speculation that he might offer a conciliatory gesture to China ahead of the North's key party congress in May.

But North Korea's nuclear test on Jan. 6, the fourth in a decade, has proven that the North has no intention of ditching its dual-track policy.

Analysts said that the North's byeongjin policy may have a short-term effect on boosting its economy, but it will likely hamper economic growth over the long haul as growing military tension will scare off investors.

"If North Korea sticks to the dual-track policy, it will hurt the North's external relations and lead foreign investors to shun the North due to high military tension," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University.

Since the North's leader took office in late 2011, North Korea's economy has posted marginal growth.

North Korea's economy is estimated to have grown 1 percent in 2014, slightly slowing from a 1.1 percent on-year gain the previous year, according to South Korea's central bank. It posted economic growth for the fourth straight year in 2014 after contracting in 2009 and 2010.

The North has operated a state-controlled rationing system for a long time. But marketplaces have gradually increased since the mid-1990s as North Koreans had to find sources of survival following a severe famine and economic hardship, widely known as the "Arduous March."

In an annual audit session last year, South Korea's spy agency told lawmakers that around 380 markets exist across the North that help instill market capitalism in ordinary North Koreans. The growth of marketplaces has expanded noticeably over the last 10 years, experts said.

"North Korea has transferred considerable parts of its munitions productions to manufacturing of goods for daily lives, which might help prop up its economy in recent years," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute.

Pyongyang has designated several special economic zones mainly in areas bordering China in a bid to attract foreign investment. But its ambitious development plans have faced serious setbacks as foreign investment remains lackluster due to the North's ceaseless provocations.

"North Korea's pursuit of the byeongjin policy only will deepen its international isolation," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

Cheong said that China's case of seeking reform and openness can be a lesson for North Korea, adding that the North should return to the international community by abandoning its nuclear weapons program.

Lee Jong-seok, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute, said that the two Koreas and other five regional powers should create a six-way security network to better deal with regional security in Northeast Asia.


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