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NO.399 05.15.2018

“North Korean Economy Enters Phase Two”

The success of inter-Korean summit on April 27 brings close home the expression “Spring of the Korean Peninsula.” As a new political order is being formulated between the two Koreas and in East Asia, Professor Seong-Ji Woo of the Department of International Studies has published to a wide acclaim a new book titled Understanding inter-Korean Relations (published by Kyung Hee University Communication and Press), which provides a comprehensive analysis of the 70-year relationship between the two Koreas since the end of the WWII.

Professor Woo, who has delved deep into the inter-Korean relationship since 2003, utilized an “objective approach that distances itself from previous research methods” in his new book. Without ideological prejudice it weaves many topics into the ‘big picture,’ depicting the past, present, and future of the South-North relationship. We met with Professor Woo to hear the observations of an expert on the most recent inter-Korean summit.

Scores: PyeongChang 80, Panmunjom 100

Q:As an inter-Korean relations expert, how do you assess the recent summit at Panmunjom?

A:I assess it positively. It produced a plausible declaration, and we can look forward to more positive outcome. The recent summit was a result of the events that began at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang; I would give PyeongChang games a score of 80, and a score of 100 to the summit. I am especially inspired by the venue at Panmunjom, which was a “divine choice.” Panmunjom is the symbol of our division, where the armistice agreement was signed and guns are being pointed at our own brothers; there the two leaders met. Hence, the meeting transformed the very symbolism of Panmunjom.

Q:What do you think to be North Korea’s next moves?

A: The governance system of Chairman Kim Jong-un can be divided into two phases. Phase one started in 2011, when Kim came into power, until 2018; this period is characterized by an economic system focused on nuclear development, leading up to the April 2018 inter-Korean summit. Phase two begins after the summit, punctuated by Kim’s declaration of denuclearization.

The new momentum of peace in inter-Korean exchange will have to lead to the peace in East Asia and, eventually, world peace. Political circles, citizens, and academia each has a role to play; we must begin a discourse that is more collected, prudent, and practicable.

Presenting the alternative third option without ideological partiality as a new path for the Korean peninsula

Q: What were the limitations placed on previous inter-Korean relations research?

A: Without a fundamental understanding on the identity and the changes in the strategy of the North Korean system, conducting research grounded on political ideology or party affiliation is unrealistic and dangerous. I began studying this topic in 2003, when I was a staff researcher at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (iFANS, currently Korean National Diplomatic Academy [KNDA)). In 2005, I joined Kyung Hee University, and continued to study international politics and inter-Korean relations.


Based on my research during this time, I published Understanding Inter-Korean Relations. The book outlines the 70-year history of South-North rivalry and confrontation. Without leaning toward any specific ideology, I attempted to approach many topics from multiple perspectives.

Q: What is in the book, Understanding Inter-Korean Relations?

A: The book has four parts. Part 1 addresses the inter-Korean relationship from 1948 to 2008; it addresses the issues and challenges of inter-Korean relations and human rights in North Korea. Part 2 examines the relationship during the Cold War years, highlighting d?tente created by inter-Korean reconciliation and Korea-U.S. alliance. Part 3 studies the North Korean grand strategy during the post-Cold War era. For example, some of the developments include North Korea’s nuclear program and its strategy toward the South in the aftermath of the 2007 Six-party talks, and Kim Jong-il’s international relations strategy. In Part 4, I looked into North Korea’s strategy to seek modernization, and consider possible solutions to the North Korea issue.


Professor Woo is planning an “Inter-Korean Relations Trilogy” with the recent publication Understanding Inter-Korean Relations being its first installment. The second book will address the era when Park Chung-hee and Kim Il-sung were leaders of the South and the North, respectively. The third volume will explore the two Koreas from the 1940s to early 2018. Since 2015, the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) has been funding the inter-Korean reconciliation research project that will be featured in the second volume of the series; the publication of this volume is slated for 2020.

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