North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he is determined to wage a tougher “Arduous March” during a closing address at the conference of cell secretaries of the Workers’ Party on Thursday. “Our Party never expects that there will be any fortuitous opportunity for us in paving the road,” said Kim. “There is nothing we could depend on or look to.” The “Arduous March” refers to the devastating famine in North Korea in the 1990s that stemmed from the death of Kim Il Sung, followed by the loss of international support and natural disasters. During the period, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans starved to death.
Kim Jong Un’s latest remarks appear to be part of North Korea’s pressure tactics, making it clear that it does not intend to easily engage in talks with the U.S. Pyongyang is pushing Washington to make concessions in its new North Korea policy by showing its willingness to endure long-term isolation.
The White House said on Wednesday that it is prepared to consider diplomacy with North Korea if it will lead to denuclearization. The U.S. proposed dialogue with the goal denuclearization as a precondition. In response, Kim Jong Un mentioned the Arduous March that happened some 30 years ago. It means that he will never give up nuclear programs even if it would result in great sufferings of North Koreans, or even a massive starvation. Kim went on to sugarcoat it by the decision is to give maximum material and cultural welfare to the North Korean people. It is a total sophistry.
Kim stressed the importance of ideological education for the people in front of some 10,000 grassroots members of the the North Korean ruling party. The purpose of the education would be to monitor and punish those who move away from the ideology. However, the more they control its people, the greater the backlash. The Arduous March in the 1990s weakened North Korea’s collectivism and the Juche ideology, resulting in the phenomena of capitalism. It was around that time when the North Korean people started having side jobs and private market activities to survive from famine.
It is far from likely that North Korea’s old pressure tactics will work. The Biden administration has veteran North Korean experts who are familiar with North Korean issues. If things do not go their way, they might put North Korean nuclear issue at the back burner. If North Korea pushes ahead with Arduous March, it will face the worst-case scenario of falling into economic catastrophe, let alone drawing concession from the U.S.