Is new North Korean leader Kim Jong-un starting to cross the river by feeling the stones, as Chinese economic reformer Deng Xiaoping put it in 1984?
For the past six months, seven working-level North Korean officials have been staying at the Longxi International Hotel, located in a 72-story skyscraper in Huaxi Village, in China’s Jiangsu Province, a local government official told the JoongAng Ilbo in a telephone interview.
They’re allegedly trying to learn the secrets of Huaxi Village, known as China’s richest village but one that is still dedicated to socialism.
As news from Pyongyang suggests Kim Jong-un is getting a greater grip on North Korea’s military by sacking his former protector and promoting a lesser known military figure, many analysts have speculated that he may be winding down his father’s “military-first” policy to start to reform the local economy.
China has exhorted North Korea to take the path of more economic openness and reform for years. Kim’s father, late leader Kim Jong-il, resolutely ignored its advice and stuck to the “military-first” policy to keep complete control of the hermetic nation.
The North Koreans visiting Huaxi may be a sign of his son’s more open attitude toward economic experimentation and a greater willingness to follow Deng Xiaoping’s opening of the Chinese economy starting in the late 1970s.
Huaxi Village is one of the richest places in China and a symbol of a model mixing socialism and capitalism. All the residents are shareholders of the local conglomerate and earn dividends at the end of every year according to its profitability.
“Roughly 20 North Koreans recently toured Huaxi Village,” a local resident told the JoongAng Ilbo. “The seven working-level North Korean officials have been staying in the village for six months learning how to manage a modern-style hotel.” Intriguingly, all seven are women.
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