Could a “Deng Xiaoping” surface in North Korea?

Before you call that wishful thinking remember that when the Cultural Revolution was going on in China nobody would have thought someone like Deng would become the strong leader. But it happened. And not only did the party denounce Mao’s policies and what happened during the Cultural Revolution they also started slowly adapting market principles.

Where would China be today if someone like Deng Xiaoping hadn't changed Mao's disastrous policies? When will a similar North Korean do the same?

Deng Xiaoping with the help of reform minded party colleagues such as Zhao Ziyang and Hu Yaobang laid the foundation for the China we have today. Sure there were severe stepbacks thanks to fundamentalist communists such as Li Peng and Li Xiannian who regarded anything that questioned Chairman Mao’s philosophy as wrong. Zhao as a result ended up in house arrest for 16 years partly because he opposed Li Peng’s decision to crack down on the students at Tiannamen Square.

North Korea today and China during the Cultural Revolution have similarities Two countries closed to the outside world with populations that are petrified of the authorities and what could happen to them if they showed dissent. Am aware of how brain washed the North Koreans are, but so where the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution.

Visitors say there are open expressions of defiance by North Koreans. Apparently illegal DVDs showing South Korean soap operas gave northerners a taste of the better life their former countrymen enjoyed, helping to destroy the myth of South Korea as a downtrodden Yankee colony.

There must be people like Deng in North Korea who realize that instead of starving like they do, and the Chinese did under Mao, they have to do what Deng Xiaoping did in China? For the North Koreans, like it was for the Chinese, it’s simply a question of survival. If China hadn’t gone down Deng’s way the People’s Republic would, like the Soviet Union, no longer exist.

Deng didn’t call it market economy but Chinese socialism. The “North Korean Deng” could use similar tacticts so that he, like Deng, can avoid challenges to his power. Deng was far from perfect. His talk about political reform was, for instance, just talk. He had no intention of China ever becoming a democracy. But he was definitely a step in the right direction.

Am sure that the Chinese authorities are tired of North Korea, even though they wouldn’t say so in public. Kim Jung-il is a relic they inherited from Mao that can no longer be of any interest to today’s Chinese rulers. If a Deng surfaced the Chinese would most likely be more than happy to assist him to do what was done in the 80s and 90s in the People’s Republic. Even if Kim Jung-il turned himself into a Deng I’m sure the Chinese would be delighted to help and eventually be able to wash their hands of North Korea.

There are speculations that “The Dear Leader” have already lost power to the North Korean military. If so, it isn’t farfetched that someone like Deng Xiaoping could surface. But first, of course, they have to get rid of Kim Jong-il. The world media and the financial markets actually enable the little dictator to stay in power by paying attention to him. If he was ignored most of his power would be gone. That would facilitate for change to take place. Maybe even China could make it happen?

The Chinese know what must happen in North Korea, so let’s hope they step up to the plate and make it happen. Now that South Korea has cut all support, North Korea is surviving because of China. So time has come for the Chinese to act behind the scenes to pave way for a Deng in Pyongyang. To ebable such a step, the world community must, however, refrain from making China lose face for doing so.

(Photo: Kanigma – Flickr)

11 thoughts on “Could a “Deng Xiaoping” surface in North Korea?

  1. Thank you for offering Suprio, but, as you may have noticed, I don't have any guest bloggers. If I change my mind in the future I will let you know. Once again, thank you for offering to write for Catarina's World.

  2. Hi Catarina,
    never say never! we are talking about DPRK where everything, and the total opposite, may happen.
    DPRK has 2 faces: while politically it is a dictatorial state, it did shift from a centrally planned and tightly controlled economy to a more open approach to market economy.
    Kim Jong-il is showing interest in Chinese-style economic reforms, as well as in the economic achievements generated in Vietnam.
    Today you can see some basic entrepreneurial activities (like private commerce and general markets), and foreign trade see China, Thailand and Russia as major players, along with a timid initiation of special economic zone where foreign-owned companies can import materials and export products duty free along with a 3-year tax break.
    Of course it seems that current leadership is unable to set the directions and right path to full open market reform, but the initial move might, or should, be driven by the international community in a step to facilitate the reform.

    1. Glad to hear about what's going on inside North Korea Antonio. Seems they have at least started down the right track. Also interesting to note that Kim Jong-il himself is showing interest in Chinese style economic reform. Fingers crossed this is the beginning of a new phase.

  3. I truly hope that a Deng-like leader in North Korea is achievable in the near future.

    Unfortunately, though, I doubt it as I see the situations as quite different: in China, after Mao, there came to be rule by committee, rather than one omnipotent leader. In North Korea, omnipotence still holds sway and Kim seems determined that his son will be the third generation of the Kim Dynasty. Yes, the military there has considerable power but the situation is more analogous to Zimbabwe than China – a ruler kept in power by the military because he, in turn, keeps the top brass happy.

    The military in Zimbabwe does not want to be seen to be ruling the country as that would necessitate deciding which of them is the overall leader which, in turns, leads to internal conflict. So long as all are living in a style beyond their wildest dreams, leaving Mugabe in power is the most agreeable overall compromise for them.

    Interesting to see how both of these fertile countries have also become famine-ravaged non-functional states. The only difference is that when Mugabe goes, there is no son and heir to take over, so the in-fighting will become vigorous.

    1. Met Mugabe once and he is definitely intelligent. Wonder if Kim Jong-il is as bright?

      Like the comparison with Zimbabwe. However, I also believe that China could, if they wanted to have a stong influence on North Korea. Am also sure they would like to wash their hands of the problem called North Korea. So hopefully they start insisting in changes to how the North Korean economy is run?

      By the way, make no bones about it Deng had the last say on everthing when he was the supreme leader. And nobody dared go against him. So it was more similar to North Korea than we thought. Do read Zhao Ziyang's book "Prisoner of the State"? It is the only peek behind the curtain of the secretive world of Chinese politics ever. Will show you what it was really like when Deng was in charge. I highly recommend it.

  4. Catarina,

    It is my pleasure to read about what is happening in North Korea and the involvement of China. Closer to our part of the world (read: India) we are witnessing a lot of things and . Like in Nepal with Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal). In India what the Maoists are doing. There are many other things which your readers would find a lot to think and comment about. As I am very much into writing on India and its neighbouring countries I would like to contribute here.


    Suprio Ghatak

  5. >>>not only did the party denounce Mao’s policies and what happened during the Cultural Revolution ….

    That is not correct. The Chinese Communist Party never denounced Chairman Mao's policies, they just allowed reform. Mao is still publicly revered in China. To have denounced Mao would taken his picture off of the Forbidden Palace and it's still there bigger than life. In fact, Mao's body still lies in state in Beijing and thousands of Chinese people visit every day. What has happened is that gradually, in a very Chinese way, there's come to be an acknowledgment that Deng's way was better.

    >>>If China hadn’t gone down Deng’s way the People’s Republic would, like the Soviet Union, no longer exist.

    The emperors come and go, but China will always be China. Only in the big cities is there a noticeable evolution in Chinese psyche; it will be another 20 years – if ever – before that permeates China as a whole.

    You are correct that a Deng-like figure would be a welcome relief in North Korea when the old guy goes, but the son is not likely to be that guy.

    1. Glad we agree that "a Deng" would be a good idea for North Korea.

      For the rest of your comment, have you read Zhao Ziyang's book "Prisoner of the State"? If not, I suggest you do because it is the only peek behind the curtain of the secretive world of Chinese politics ever. It will give you a rare inside account into what really happened in the time of Deng and not just the official version. I highly recommend it.

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