On November 8, James Person, Senior Program Associate of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, gave a lecture with a title of “North Korea After Kim Jong-il: Politics, Economy, and Society” at Wellesley College. His talk, which was organized by Wellesley’s Advocates for North Korean Human Rights (ANKHR), mostly focused on the Wilson Center’s North Korea International Documentation Project.
Person suggested that the unpredictability of North Korea’s behavior partially stems from the lack of information that could be accessed from the outside world. Scholars and policy makers only have North Korea’s official broadcast, official publications, and testimonies of defectors to rely on for insight into the hermit kingdom. To combat this problem, Wilson Center is currently conducting a research called the North Korea International Documentation Project. The project is executed through compiling archives of North Korea’s former communist allies—East Germany, Poland, and Czechoslovakia to name a few —and of China as well. Person indicated that these records made by foreign diplomats in North Korea allow a much deeper understanding into its foreign relations, inter-Korean relations, domestic policies, and military developments. For instance, some of these records show Sino-DPRK tensions when there were border clashes between DPRK and China during the Cultural Revolution of China. Kim Jong-il even stated that he does not “trust the Chinese” at the time.
Person asserted that in-depth examination of diplomatic archives is especially crucial for DPRK, because “history matters” for policies of North Korea. The Chollima Movement is a good example of such case. It was a state-sponsored Stakhanovite movement aimed to promote rapid economic development in the mid-1950s. DPRK government revived this movement in the 2000s to build a “strong and prosperous” state by 2012.
I am intrigued to find out how historical records of North Korea’s diplomatic dialogue will compare to policy decisions of the new Kim Jong-un regime. Will we see stark divergences from the time under his father and grandfather’s rule or a continuation of their legacy? The question is yet to be answered.
Following is the website for the North Korea International Documentation Project:
Buzo, Adrian (1999). The Guerrilla Dynasty: Politics and Leadership in North Korea. I.B. Tauris. p. 63.
Person, James (2009) New Evidence on North Korea’s Chollima Movement and First Five-Year Plan (1957-1961), p.2.