South Korea Hands Kim Jong-un a Path to Prosperity on a USB Drive
SEOUL, South Korea - For years, Kim Jong-un, North Korea's leader, has been cracking down on USB flash drives that activists smuggle into his isolated country to poison his people's minds with outside influences, like South Korean K-pop music.
But last month, when he met with the South's president, Moon Jae-in, Mr. Moon handed him a USB drive that contained quite a different message.
In charts and video clips, Mr. Moon's memory stick laid out a "new economic map for the Korean Peninsula," including new railways and power plants for the impoverished North, should Mr. Kim abandon his nuclear weapons, according to South Korean officials.
It is a premise that will be tested when President Trump meets with Mr. Kim in a few weeks' time. When Mr. Moon met with Mr. Kim on the inter-Korean border on April 27 to help set up the North Korea-United States summit, he handed over the USB drive to illustrate what benefits awaited Mr. Kim should he denuclearize.
"Kim Jong-un's desire to develop his country's economy is as strong as, and even stronger than, his desire for nuclear weapons," said Lee Jong-seok, a former unification minister of South Korea. "But he knows he cannot achieve the kind of rapid economic growth in China that he envisions for his country while keeping his nuclear weapons - because of the sanctions."
Skeptics doubt Mr. Kim's xenophobic regime will ever surrender its nuclear deterrent.
But since the inter-Korean summit meeting, many South Koreans have started to believe that Mr. Kim is a "trustworthy" reformer, according to recent surveys. A growing number of South Korean analysts have also begun arguing that Mr. Kim wants to follow the model of the South's own past military dictators who focused on economic prosperity.
Such a theory was much harder to sell just months ago.
Since taking power in 2011, Mr. Kim has executed scores of top officials, including his own uncle. He has also tested a hydrogen bomb and long-range missiles, claiming that he could hit the mainland United States with nuclear warheads.
Vilified as he was, however, Mr. Kim has also shown signs of being a reformer, granting farms and factories more autonomy, allowing more markets to open, and setting off a building boom in his showcase capital, Pyongyang. He exhorts his country to follow "international development trends" and "global standards" and even admits failing to deliver on his promise that his long-suffering people would "no longer have to tighten their belts."
"My desires were burning all the time, but I spent the past year feeling anxious and remorseful for the lack of my ability," Mr. Kim said in a nationally broadcast speech last year, a startling admission for a member of the family that has ruled North Korea with the help of a personality cult since its founding in 1948.
After meeting him, Mr. Moon called Mr. Kim "open-minded and practical."
Nowhere is Mr. Kim's dilemma better seen than in his policy of "byungjin," or parallel advance, which seeks a nuclear arsenal and economic development simultaneously. Under that policy, Mr. Kim has rapidly developed his country's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, arguing that a nuclear deterrent would make his country feel secure enough to focus on rebuilding the economy. But the world has responded by imposing crippling sanctions.
"Kim Jong-un is at a crossroads," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, South Korea's capital. "He could advance his nuclear weapons program further and face a deeper isolation and possible economic ruin. Or he could use it as a bargaining card to win normalized ties and a peace treaty with the United States and economic recovery."
"金正恩正处在一个十字路口上，"位于韩国首都首尔的世宗研究院(Sejong Institute)高级分析师郑相昌(Cheong Seong-chang)说。"他可以进一步推进他的核武器计划，从而面临更严重的孤立和可能的经济毁灭。或者，他也可以把核武器作为一种讨价还价的砝码，以换取与美国关系的正常化、和平条约和经济复苏。"
If Mr. Kim pursues the route of economic reform, energy and transport are the two areas where he most needs outside help. In his meeting with Mr. Moon, Mr. Kim admitted to the "embarrassing" condition of his roads and railways, South Korean officials said.
Trains running on electricity remain North Korea's main means of transport, carrying 90 percent of its cargo and 60 percent of its passenger traffic, according to Ahn Byung-min, a senior analyst at the South's government-funded Korea Transport Institute. But its rail systems are so decrepit that its fastest train, which runs to the Chinese border from Pyongyang, travels at 28 miles an hour. Other trains run at less than half that speed, Mr. Ahn said.
电气化铁路仍然是朝鲜的主要交通工具，承载着90%的货运量和60%的客流量，安炳民(Ahn Byung-min)说，他是韩国政府支持的韩国运输研究所(Korea transport Institute)的高级分析师。但朝鲜的铁路系统非常落后，运行于平壤和中国边境之间的列车是其最快的列车，这趟车每小时的速度只有45公里。安炳民说，其他列车的速度还不到这个的一半。
Lacking cash for oil imports, North Korea produces all its electricity from hydroelectric dams and coal-burning power plants. But the country's power industry is trapped in a vicious cycle, energy experts say. Chronic electricity shortages make it difficult to produce coal and transport it to power plants. People in search of firewood for heat and cooking have denuded their hills, causing floods and droughts and making silt pile up at dams. That cuts down hydroelectric generation.
North Korea's electricity generation amounts to only 4.4 percent of South Korea's, according to Park Eun-jeong, an analyst at the South's Korea Development Bank.
据韩国国家开发银行(Korea Development Bank)分析师朴恩正（Park Eun-jeong，音）的说法，朝鲜的发电量只相当于韩国的4.4%。
"Electricity is the Achilles' heel for North Korea," said Lee Jong-heon, an energy analyst in Seoul.
Mr. Moon's proposal to modernize the North's roads and railways and link them to the South's is not just meant to help North Korea.
South Korean policymakers say that the two Koreas must first integrate their economies to make the eventual reunification less chaotic. They also envision building trans-Korean railways to find faster and cheaper routes to export South Korean goods to China, Russia and Europe, and bring Russian oil and gas into the South through pipelines for its power-hungry economy.
But that is unlikely to happen until the North denuclearizes.
In 2007, the two Koreas temporarily connected two short stretches of railway across their border, but further efforts to reconnect the two systems have been suspended amid rising tensions over the North's nuclear program. In 2004, South Korea opened a joint industrial park in the North Korean town of Kaesong and sent electricity to run it. But the park was closed after the North's nuclear test in 2016.
Now, with Mr. Kim reportedly willing to discuss denuclearization, there are renewed hopes in the South.
"Reunification can start with reconnecting energy and transport lines of the two Koreas," said Mr. Lee.