North Korea Sunday warned the South not to expect any major reforms under the leadership of Kim Jong-Un, with a senior official rejecting discussion of potential policy change as a “foolish and silly dream”.
Kim, believed to be in his late 20s, took the reins of power in December following the death of his father, longtime ruler Kim Jong-Il.
Speculation of impending change was fuelled earlier this month when the communist regime sacked prominent military chief Ri Yong-ho and replaced him with a little known general and promoted Jong-Un to the top military post of Marshal.
The secretive nation also made a rare announcement last week that the young ruler is married, in a major departure from the past when the private lives of his predecessors were kept under wraps.
Seoul commentators claimed the changes may have been implemented to set the stage for possible efforts by Swiss-educated Kim to open up the country to political or economic reforms.
But a spokesman for the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which is in charge of cross-border affairs, blasted such hopes as “ridiculous” and “ignorant” in an interview with state-run KCNA on Sunday.
He also accused Seoul of trying to impose its capitalist system upon the North by “trumpeting reform and opening”, adding, “there cannot be any slightest change in all policies” of the communist state.
Kim inherited from his father an economy in ruins after decades of mismanagement, and a malnourished population dependent on foreign food aid.
Educated in the West, he has been seen as potentially more receptive than his father to undertaking sweeping reforms which would open up the nation’s crumbling economy.
However, the International Crisis Group (ICG) thinktank said last week that there was nothing to suggest that Kim would take measures to improve the lot of his impoverished people in the isolated state.
The Brussels-based ICG said that economic reform — however necessary to the country’s wellbeing — would contradict the centrally-planned system espoused by Kim’s father and grandfather.
Inter-Korea ties have been particularly icy since the South’s conservative leader Lee Myung-Bak took office in 2008, repeatedly urging the North to reform and saying reunification was imminent, despite complaints from Pyongyang.