The line in the recent speech telling people they d never have to “tighten their belts again” might have been one signal that Kim Jong Un at some level understands this. And now there may be more evidence that he knows something’s got to give in his poor, benighted country. Earlier this week, Japan’s Mainichi Shumbun, a Tokyo-based daily, reported that its Beijing correspondent had received documents that purport to be an account of a Jan. 28 meeting Kim had with unidentified Korean Workers’ Party officials in Pyongyang. In the written account of the meeting, Jong Un complains that policymakers who might disagree with the grim economic autarky that has prevailed for decades in Pyongyang rarely speak up, because doing so subjects them to criticism that they are “trying to introduce capitalist ways.” He ordered, according to the paper, the attendees to “find reconstruction measures suiting the nation through discussion without taboos.” The newspaper then quotes what it identifies as a source “within the Korean Workers’ Party” saying, “Recently Comrade Kim Jong Un gave the order: ‘If there are any excellent methods that we can use, whether they are Chinese methods or from Russia or Japan, implement them.”’
If this story is accurate — TIME has been unable to verify the authenticity of the documents Mainichi obtained — the implications are important for obvious reasons. It may mean that young Jong Un, who spent a few years as a teenager going to school in Switzerland, may be willing to acknowledge the blindingly obvious: that what North Korea has been doing for decades economically doesn’t work, and that there are plenty of examples right in the neighborhood — South Korea and China most obviously — who have over the same period gotten a lot of things right economically.