Glasnost in North Korea?

Indeed, there are signs in Kim’s speeches and guidance visits that the substance is changing along with the style. In a lengthy talk given to senior party leaders in April, Kim called on officials to try new ideas and be less ideological. “Officials should work with a creative and enterprising attitude… [and] resolutely do away with the outdated ideological viewpoint and backward method and style of work.” It was a distinct echo of Deng’s famous December 1978 speech that launched China’s reforms, in which he called on party members to be “pathbreakers who dare to think, explore new ways and generate new ideas.”

The international community witnessed the North’s new realism in April, when Pyongyang admitted failure of a rocket launch. Under Kim Jong-il, long-range rocket tests had been declared a complete success despite having fallen short of their targets. But this time, with CNN reporting live from Kim Il-sung Square, Pyongyang anticlimactically conceded that the launch had failed for technical reasons.

The global media herd raced off to their next story. But inside North Korea, this admission was just the beginning of a new spirit of acknowledging problems. It’s not glasnost yet, but Kim has talked openly about North Korea’s food problem, consumer goods problem and the importance of “fully solving the problems arising in developing the economy and improving the people’s living standards.”