North Korea needs a new direction

A half year has passed since the Dec. 17, 2011, death of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The “military first” policy is his legacy. North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong Un, his youngest son, should pursue the path of giving priority to improving the well-being of the North Korean people. Such a policy will help stabilize not only the East Asian security environment but also North Korea itself in the end.

Mr. Kim has consolidated his power since his father’s death. He was elected first secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and appointed chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission on April 11. The Korean Central News Agency on April 13 reported that he had been elected first chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission.

His ability as a national leader is being tested. Pyongyang has been censured by the international community for its April 13 failed attempt to launch a satellite, a suspected covert test of its long-range missile technology.

Meanwhile, food shortages have deepened after a drought and hailstorms hit a grain-producing region near the Yellow Sea.

In his first major speech during an April 15 military parade in Pyongyang, Mr. Kim said, “It is the party’s steadfast determination to ensure that the people will never have to tighten their belt again and make sure they enjoy the riches and affluence of socialism to their heart’s content.”

But he also praised the military-first policy: “Superiority in military technology is no longer monopolized by imperialists. We have to make every effort to reinforce the people’s armed forces.”

Economic sanctions against his country have been strengthened every time it carried out a nuclear or missile test. The international community is not responding as previously to Pyongyang’s call for more humanitarian aid. North Korea’s obsession with nuclear weapon and missile development is responsible for these reactions.

The international community’s contributions to the World Food Program’s North Korean aid program has fallen short of actual needs for several years. North Korean authorities said that as of late May, drought hit nearly 40 percent of agricultural fields in the Yellow Sea region. Deaths from starvation are even being reported. Mr. Kim rarely visits production sites or farming villages. He should realize that his regime cannot survive unless he abandons the nuclear weapon and missile programs and becomes serious about enhancing the people’s well-being.

Regrettably China, the North’s major ally, is reported to have exported vehicles capable of carrying long-range missiles to North Korea in violation of the U.N. North Korea sanctions. Beijing should behave as a responsible U.N. Security Council member.