Stage a buyout to end Kim's regime: The Nation columnist

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (centre) clapping hands while viewing a stage during his inspecting the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People's Army (KPA).
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (centre) clapping hands while viewing a stage during his inspecting the Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People's Army (KPA). PHOTO: AFP

Suthichai Yoon

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Koreans' reunification needs to be sparked by fund.

How do you solve the North Korean problem without starting a war? The latest proposal has come in the form of a Chinese-Russian "double freeze" solution - requiring the United States to cease its war games with South Korea while Pyongyang halts its nuclear development project. No takers so far.

A former senior US State Department official, Tom Malinowski, has suggested: Flood the zone with information; emphasise human rights and reunification, not regime change; continue sanctions but don't shut off North Korea; strengthen the US-South Korean alliance, don't undermine it; communicate to North Korean elites; and talk to China about reunification.

Now comes the most interesting "peaceful regime change" formula of all: Make members of the North Korean elite millionaires. Buy them out!

This proposal is contained in a new book, "Stop North Korea!: A Radical New Approach to the North Korean Stand-off".

The book is written by Shepherd Iverson who is a professor at Inha University in Incheon, South Korea, where he has lived with his family in the past eight years. He is also the author of "One Korea: A Proposal for Peace" (2013). He said that, in order to denuclearise North Korea, we must create insurmountable culture-wide "economic incentives" for reunification. This would peacefully remove the Kim regime from power.

How does one go about offering "economic incentives" that would edge Kim Jong-un out of power?

Prof Iverson believes the only way to do this is through the institution of a Reunification Investment Fund. His plan envisions US$4 billion (S$5.45 billion) of private investment per year - promised over seven years - to pay off North Korean military and political elites, and another US$15 billion (also over seven years) to personally incentivise the government bureaucracy and the impoverished population in Pyongyang to take action.

"I think a US$30-billion fund, sitting idle in escrow but ready to pay out, might be enough to unify and denuclearise North Korea in a matter of months. Word of mouth spreads quickly. It wouldn't take long for everyone inside North Korea to hear about this offer. And soon everyone will be talking about how to depose the Kim regime and join with the South," Iverson wrote in his blog recently.

It is, he explains, the relative poverty in North Korea that gives his reunification plan a chance. He pointed out that there are 200,000 millionaires in South Korea, but only a few hundred in the North. "My plan would create 11,000 instant millionaires, and begin a long process of peace and reconciliation," he said.

Once the reunification fund is in place, North Korean elites would get enough incentive money to compel them to make Kim an offer he cannot refuse.

"This may result in a Palace Revolution led by ultra-elites - who would receive US$20 million-US$30 million each if Kim acquiesced - or a coup d'état sponsored by well-compensated military elites - all generals are promised at least a million dollars. Or it could lead to mass insurrection or peaceful acquiesce. Each of these scenarios is of course preferred over military confrontation," Iverson said.

The fund will also help the really poor and needy in North Korea. The professor pointed that, besides the nuclear threat, the UN estimates two million children are chronically malnourished and the regime holds more than 80,000 political prisoners in a Stalin-like gulag system.

"The reason this Reunification Investment Fund was quoted at $175 billion is because I direct US$125 billion - more than two-thirds of the money - directly to the impoverished masses over seven years, more than doubling average household incomes per year. This capital would come from public sources and is money that must be spent on development anyway… and it is best it enter the economy through individuals - motivating both reunification and bankrolling economic demand at the grassroots," he said.

He argued that for the masses, promises of stable food prices, modern medical and dental care for their children, job freedom, reliable water and electricity, improved infrastructure, and thousands of dollars in a personal bank account, will create a new world of optimism. What if Kim refuses to step down? Mass disappointment, he believes, will lead to collective action.

Will Kim be paid to leave?

Iverson's response: "Kim Jong-un and his family will receive no money. But I recommend Kim be allowed to keep a portion of the money he is reported to have squirreled away. I think even now Kim Jong-un might reasonably be recast as a young figurehead leader, not directly responsible for the purges ordered by the old hierarchy of the entrenched Party bureaucracy. This gives Kim a plausible free pass and safe exit from power, without international retribution."

Where would the money come from?

Iverson has the answer: "The US$4 billion per year for seven years that is necessary to payoff North Korean elites must come from private sources. I would expect a consortium of Korean chaebols, international corporations, and private individuals can raise this kind of capital. This might be all the money needed to spark reunification."

If that's the case, who needs Donald Trump?