North Korean leader Kim Jong-un continues to confound. Just weeks after a landmark satellite launch that was widely seen as a disguised ballistic missile test, he has broken with the near public silence of his late father and predecessor, Kim Jong-il, by giving a New Year's address. His urging an all-out effort for economic reform and greater engagement with rival South Korea has been viewed as equally ground-breaking given the Kim dynasty's six decades of paranoid misrule. Given the suspicion that North North is planning a third nuclear test, the challenge for the world's governments is how to encourage the regime to change while not rewarding it for blatant disregard of international rules.
In the year he has been in power, the younger Kim has shown a shift in style from previous regimes. It is subtle, but nonetheless apparent: smiling and laughing when in public, his wife often by his side; mingling with ordinary Koreans and watching events that feature Western music and fashion. In a loosening of the state's hold on agriculture, farmers have been allowed to keep a bigger proportion of surplus crops, a move that parallels China in the 1970s.
But a slight change in political tone does not alter the facts. The country remains backward, millions of its citizens live in poverty without enough to eat, and opponents and critics are imprisoned. Threatening rhetoric towards the South, the US and Japan from the state media continues unabated. A decade of Beijing-sponsored talks to convince Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear and missile programmes have gone nowhere and, even when deals are struck, promises are not kept.
Whatever the negatives, though, Kim brings hope. If he is genuine about economic reform, governments - China's foremost among them - have to offer encouragement, training and markets. There is a new impetus for peace and stability in Northeast Asia with new leaders for China, Japan and South Korea. By offering help while keeping weapons proliferation top of the agenda, they have every chance of success.