North Korea Inside Out: The Case for Economic Engagement

North Korea has a limited history of experiments with reform, and domestic resistance to transition remains formidable. However, recent trends and tentative past efforts suggest some impulse toward opening. In response, Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations and the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation convened a task force to study economic engagement with North Korea as a peaceful means of inducing change in the DPRK.

The resulting report from December 2009, North Korea Inside Out: The Case for Economic Engagement, argues that North Korea should be actively engaged from the inside to encourage change in its domestic and foreign policy. In particular, the report envisions the possibility that economic engagement, properly integrated into a system of sanctions, can transform North Korea into a country that can better provide for its people’s welfare and engage with other countries in a non-hostile manner.

The report provides an integrated series of recommendations for how to initiate the new policy approach:

  • The U.S. and North Korea should organize official contacts, Track II dialogues, academic exchanges, and non-governmental organizations’ development programs as the first steps in economic engagement
  • The U.S. government should adopt a new visa policy to increase contacts significantly
  • The U.S. can help enable international financial institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Asian Development Bank to begin to interacting with North Korea

The independent task force was co-chaired by Charles Kartman and Susan Shirk. Ambassador Kartman, as Director of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), oversaw the largest international effort at direct engagement with North Korea. Professor Susan Shirk, author of China: Fragile Superpower and founder of the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, is a pioneer of Track II work in Asia and a leading expert on U.S.-North Korean foreign policy. The Project Director was John Delury, then Associate Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society.