China allows Kim’s visit for regional balance of power: experts

31 08 2010

By Kim Young-gyo, HONG KONG, (Aug. 30 Yonhap) China seems to have allowed North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s surprise visit as Beijing is seeking to achieve an equilibrium of power in the Asia-Pacific region, experts said Monday…

Simon Shen, professor of international relations at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, said the Sino-North Korea summit appears to have been designed to flaunt their bilateral relations in response to a show of military force by South Korea and the United States. “The visit would have symbolic importance for Beijing after the U.S. military parade in the Yellow Sea,” Shen said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency. “Beijing would like to exhibit its special relations with North Korea as part of the macro balance of power.”

While assessing that Kim’s visit will not bring direct changes to the regional security issues, Shen said North Korea will continue to be a part of the long-term balance of power among various players in Northeast Asia. “It shows that North Korea is still a trump card of China despite their relation’s ups and downs, and when hawks of China need to show off their muscle the North Korea regime could become useful,” he said.

Willy Lam, who teaches China studies at Japan’s Akita International University and at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Beijing’s nod for Kim’s visit is aimed at exerting influence over nuclear-armed North Korea. “Hu needs to engage Kim because Beijing wants some degree of control over the pace of Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons,” Lam told Yonhap. “Beijing knows that it’s possible for Kim or his successors to use these weapons to blackmail China. The Chinese leadership actually was cool toward the visit since Kim had already gone to Beijing in May. That’s why they didn’t want Kim to come to Beijing.”

The Hu leadership realizes China’s refusal to condemn North Korea over the Cheonan incident has been detrimental to China’s international image, Lam said, adding that Beijing at this stage doesn’t want to be seen as being too close to Kim. Beijing has claimed that the South Korea-U.S. drills would aggravate tensions on the Korean Peninsula and threaten China’s security, but Seoul and Washington say the drills are defense-oriented and aimed at North Korea.

Rare Party Conference in N. Korea Raises Succession Questions

By Steve Herman, VOA, 30 Aug., Seoul. Many North Korea analysts expect Kim Jong Il’s third son, Kim Jong Un, who is believed to be about 27 years old, will be among those gaining a party Central Committee post. His father was given high party posts at about the same age and was groomed for decades to take control of the country. North Korea has cultivated a personality cult around its first leader, Kim Il Sung, who is called the Eternal President, and its current leader. North Korea scholars say it appears likely Kim Jong Il hopes to make sure his son builds support and power within the elite and military to ensure a smooth succession.

A senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, Park Hyeong Jung, says the son might be named to oversee the “organization and guidance” department under the Secretariat. Park says such a position would allow Kim Jong Un to make his own appointments, giving him an independent power base. Park explains the younger Kim would then be able to examine and criticize every organization within the party, effectively allowing him to monitor and control the actions of the elite.

But Balbina Hwang, a visiting professor at the U.S. National Defense University, thinks what emerges from the conference may not meet the expectations of outside analysts.  “I don’t think we’ll be satisfied with the outcome, meaning that, I don’t think, they will necessarily make an announcement stating Kim Jong Un or specifying a specific position or title,” she states.

She has little doubt Kim Jong Il is calling the shots, although Hwang predicts that before the son is firmly in power there will likely be some literal “bloodletting.” “There will be internal contestation over his legitimacy as the next ruler,” Hwang says, “It’s my personal belief that it is a done deal, in terms of what Kim Jong Il wants. And it is what Kim Jong Il is working very hard towards establishing.” She says the political jockeying as the son establishes his power could lead to purges and some executions among the North Korean elite.

Balbina Hwang says moving the spotlight in Pyongyang back to the party is significant.  “The fact that they seem to be shifting the center of power, possibly, away from the National Defense Commission and the military and toward the Workers Party signifies, I think, that there is a very substantial succession and transition underway, institutionally,” she said.

Many North Korea watchers think time is running short for the country’s absolute ruler. At the age of 68, he appears to be suffering from mounting health problems, and suffered a stroke two years ago. That may have weakened his decision-making abilities in a country facing severe challenges: an economy near collapse, food shortages, tough international sanctions and, except for China, no significant remaining allies.

Kim pays surprise visit: Media reports
Global Times, August 30, 2010

On Thursday, the first day of his visit, Kim went to Yuwen Middle School in Jilin city of the province, where his father, North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, went to school in the 1920s, Reuters reported. The Chosun Ilbo newspaper and Yonhap both reported that Kim was believed to have met President Hu in Changchun on Friday. On Saturday, Kim toured an agriculture exhibition site and Jilin Agricultural University in Changchun, Yonhap said.

Speculation also persisted on the aim of Kim’s visit, which was believed to be related to power succession, perhaps to introduce his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, to Chinese leaders. Reuters cited an unidentified source as saying Kim Jong-il was accompanied by his youngest son in the trip to seek Beijing’s approval of plans for his son to eventually succeed him.

But Cui Zhiying, a professor specializing in the Korean Peninsula at Tongji University, ruled out speculation about China’s involvement in discussions about the succession. “The succession of North Korea leaders is their domestic affair. China will not intervene in the domestic affairs of its neighboring country,” he said

Kim’s visit came at the time when North Korea has expressed a willingness to return to the Six-Party Talks on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, which have been stalled since 2008. It also came as a surprise, especially as it coincided with a visit to Pyongyang by former US president Jimmy Carter, who returned home Friday with an American, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who was sentenced in April to eight years in a North Korean prison for entering the country illegally.

Lü Chao, director of the North and South Korea Research Center at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, expressed his surprise about Kim’s missing of a meeting with Carter. “Carter has a good reputation in North Korea. Kim has met him before. But perhaps Kim missed this meeting on purpose to show his toughness and send a message that it will not bow to US pressure after a series of military drills between the US and South Korea,” he said.

Editorials in South Korea media expressed concern about Kim’s visit, fearing China may back the North and go against the South. But Lü called this “a distortion of Chinese foreign policy.” “Building friendship between China and North Korea is for the sake of stability of Northeast Asia and for the benefit of all countries,” Lu said.


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