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The Daily Yomiuri(Tokyo)

February 14, 2010 Sunday

Will fiscal woes force DPRK back to N-talks?

BYLINE: Yomiuri


LENGTH: 703 words

What impact will North Korea's economic crisis have on efforts to restart discontinued six-
party talks aimed at denuclearizing the reclusive state?
A ranking official of the Chinese Communist Party held talks with North Korean leader Kim
Jong Il in North Korea on Monday, after which a North Korean Foreign Ministry official in charge
of the six-party talks held meetings with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing. These appear to show
that Pyongyang has taken a flexible stance on its return to the six-party talks, following U.S.-North
Korea discussions held in December.
Kim reportedly said sincere efforts by the concerned countries are essential for the resumption
of the six-party talks, which involve Japan, China, North and South Korea, Russia and the United
States. Kim seemed to indicate that Pyongyang may return to the six-party forum if it is given
rewards or good reasons for doing so. This comes despite North Korea having raised its fist and
declaring it would never return to the talks.
Behind Pyongyang's change in strategy is the economic strife North Korea currently faces.
North Korea's economy has been badly affected by a U.N. Security Council resolution that
heightened sanctions against the nation after it conducted a nuclear test.
The formation of an international coalition that has closely monitored the movement of goods,
funds and personnel in and out of North Korea has made it very difficult for the nation to earn
foreign currency by selling weapons and other products that are subject to the U.N. embargo.
Currency change chaos
In addition, the daily lives of North Koreans have been thrown into disarray by a currency
reform introduced at short notice in November that made it mandatory to swap all 100 won notes
for new 1 won notes.
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Because the North Korean government capped the amount of old notes that could be swapped
for new ones, people rushed en masse to exchange their notes for goods or foreign currency, fearing
that most of the money they had stored under the mattress might become mere strips of paper.
That apparently has led to a further increase in commodity prices. This came about despite the
fact that the government imposed the measure to try to stem inflation.
At the beginning of this year, three official North Korean newspapers, including the Rodong
Sinmun published by the Workers' Party of Korea, stressed in a joint editorial that people's quality
of life should be improved drastically.
The editorial must have been written in response to frustrations felt by North Koreans over poor
clothing, food and housing conditions in their country, which have not been improved at all over
many years. Though the editorial listed the expansion of external trade as a means to achieve this
goal, we think it will be difficult for Pyongyang to improve the situation in the country unless it
takes tangible steps toward denuclearization.
Preconditions unacceptable
It is problematic that North Korea still demands the lifting of sanctions against it as a
precondition to returning to the six-party talks. In addition, Pyongyang has said that before it will
discuss the abandonment of its nuclear development program, it wants to see a peace treaty
concluded between North Korea and the countries concerned with the Korean Armistice
However, if these demands were met, North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons would
become a fait accompli. We think the demands are selfish. North Korea should agree to a
resumption of the six-party talks without any preconditions.
The foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea have rightfully pointed out that North Korea
should first denuclearize and take other actions to lift sanctions and conclude a peace treaty.
North Korea's economic policy blunder together with Kim's health problems may weaken the
grip of the current regime. The destabilization of nuclear-armed North Korea would have serious
implications for Japan's security, including the heightened risk of nuclear proliferation and a sharp
increase in refugees fleeing the country.
Japan should enhance its cooperation with the United States and South Korea to ensure it can
keep a closer watch on the changing situation in North Korea.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 14, 2010)

LOAD-DATE: February 14, 2010



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