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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Controlling the uncontrollable? : economic transition and elite power in North Korea and Vietnam MacArthur, Julie Leigh


This thesis comparatively examines the challenges of economic reform facing the North Korean elite. Is the North Korean regime willing to open the Pandora's box of economic reform? If so what does this mean for the country- both for Korean Worker's Party elites and the nation's impoverished population? It is argued here that realists skeptical of economic reform do not account for the positive incentives facing elites, such as privileged access to new economic assets. Within transitions theory, both Walder (2004) and Hellman (1998) have illustrated that communist elites can benefit, rather than lose, from gradualist economic reforms. This argument supports policies of engaging North Korea economically, and encouraging a gradual, elite-led, transition for the country. The logic of linking economic policy to security is based in liberal institutionalist theory of Keohane and Nye (2001). This emphasizes the power of socialization and interdependence to cause transformation, rather than military conflict or containment. Through analysis of Vietnamese and North Korean political economy, this comparative study makes the case that the elite-led path is possible in North Korea. However, the political will of elites to deepen reform is dependent on outside incentives, as well as the policy choices of its neighbours in Northeast Asia, and the United States. Consequently, facilitation of this process by policymakers in international financial institutions and their constituent donor countries is a key element in paving a path to peace for the DPRK.

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