Kim's China Model?

Kim's China Model?

On Tuesday, Alex took up the Korea question of the moment: What does Kim want? If he’ll really give up nuclear weapons without insisting that US troops head home — your Friday author remains as skeptical as ever — what’s the long-term survival plan? Alex looked at the “Castro promise”: Kim surrenders his nuclear weapons for a US pledge never to invade. But military survival is not Kim’s only challenge. How can he develop North Korea’s economy, as he says he means to do? Can he copy the China model?


In the early 1980s, China began experimenting with “special economic zones,” a few enclaves of market-driven capitalism in cities along the coast. The Chinese learned, as people do, by trial and error. Local successes expanded. The 1989 trauma in Tiananmen Square set things back, but Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping used his final days to reinvigorate reform. Here’s one measure of success: The number of Chinese living on less than two dollars per day fell from 756 million in 1990 to around just 5.5 million today, according to the World Poverty Clock.

Could North Korea walk a similar path toward similar results? Three reasons for doubt:

Something to offer: In 1980, China already had nearly 1 billion people. In China, foreign companies saw a vast army of cheap labor that could lower its production costs and an enormous potential consumer market to buy their products. North Korea is home to 25 million people. It offers little that can’t be found in many other developing countries, particularly those with higher-skilled workers and protected property rights. And times have changed. The automation of manufacturing cuts into the value that low-wage labor once offered for all poorer countries since robots work for free and don’t need breaks or benefits.

Isolation: China was never isolated to the extent North Korea is today. Is Kim ready to welcome large numbers of outsiders to interact with ordinary North Koreans and their severely distorted view of life beyond their borders? Is he ready to allow ambitious North Koreans to make money and develop connections that they could use to build independent influence within his country? How much exposure to other societies can he afford?

The downside of dynasty: Trial and error depends on a willingness to recognize errors. It’s easier for an institution as large as the Chinese Communist Party to absorb blame for setbacks. North Korea is ruled by a family dynasty with little history of acknowledging fallibility. Kim sits atop a cult of personality. When things don’t go well, he can push blame on lesser officials. But he can’t pull that off indefinitely. And who takes the blame when North Koreans become aware of the camps and famines that have killed so many?

The bottom line: Cynicism is rarely useful but, as with every other aspect of the Korea story, we remain skeptical of Kim’s willingness and ability to build a peaceful and sustainable North Korea.

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Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.

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Dr Anthony Fauci says the US is again "going in the wrong direction" as COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across America. Over the past two weeks, hospitalizations — an apt indicator of serious illness from COVID — have spiked in 45 out of 50 states as a result of the contagious delta variant and rejection of vaccines, which are leading many US states to now have a vaccine surplus. We take a look at the 10 states where hospitalization rates have increased the most in recent weeks, and their corresponding vaccination rates — and unused vaccine rates.

Iraqi PM's face-to-face with Biden: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq's prime minister, met with President Biden at the White House Monday to discuss the future of US troops in Iraq. The US still has about 2,500 troops stationed in Iraq to engage in "counterterrorism" operations and train Iraqi forces. In an interview published this week, al-Kadhimi called for the withdrawal of all US combat troops, because, he said, Iraqi forces have proven capable of fighting ISIS militants on their own. (Just last week, some 30 Iraqis were killed when ISIS militants attacked a busy Baghdad market.) Al-Kadhimi still wants non-combat US troops to stay on in a training capacity. He became PM in 2020 as a consensus candidate after nationwide protests over corruption and joblessness forced the resignation of the unpopular previous government. At least 500 protesters were killed during a crackdown by Iraqi security forces, fueling demands for fresh elections, which are set to take place this October. The green PM has a tough job: he has to juggle relations with the Biden administration, which just pledged $155 million in aid to Iraq, and ties with Tehran, an influential player in Iraqi politics. (Iraq relies on Iran for energy imports, and Iran-backed militias inside Iraq are a force to be reckoned with.) Local sentiment has soured on the US presence as Iraqis resent being caught in the middle of US-Iran fights inside Iraqi territory.

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Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

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"We've been dealing with pandemics from the earliest recorded history. Thucydides writes about a pandemic in the history of the Peloponnesian War. So the last thing 2020 was, was unprecedented," Stanford historian Niall Ferguson told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World. Ferguson, whose new book, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe," believes that the world should have been better prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic based on the numerous health crises of the 20th century, from the 1918 Spanish flu to influenza and HIV/AIDS. He provides perspective on how the COVID crisis stacks up compared to other pandemics throughout history.

Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

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