Kim Jong-il snubs Jimmy Carter in lead up to succession

2 09 2010

by Aidan Foster Carter, East Asia Forum, 2 September 2010.

Kim Jong-il headed to China at the end of last month less than four months after his last visit. This timing was the more surprising since it meant he missed Jimmy Carter. The former US president arrived in Pyongyang to secure the release of a US prisoner, Aijalon Mahli Gomes. […] Last August it was Bill Clinton who did the honours, in a trip clearly para-diplomatic in intent and outcome: he met Kim Jong-il, and it looked briefly as if US-DPRK relations might thaw. Carter had no such luck. Indeed, Kim Jong-il’s snub – couldn’t he have waited for a day? – sends its own message.

From Washington, the Nelson Report offered different versions in successive issues. John Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was keen to go get Gomes, who is also his constituent; but the State Department vetoed this lest it look too official and governmental. Alternatively, it was Kim Jong-il who on July 30 nixed both Kerry and Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico – who has been on mercy missions to Pyongyang before. Kim wanted Jim. But in that case, why did he stand him up? Possibly because the Obama administration, concerned at Carter’s well-known penchant for freelance diplomacy, kept its distance from this trip – in contrast to the close liaison last year over Bill Clinton’s visit, though that too was nominally private.

But America is hardly the main thing on the dear leader’s mind just now. His sudden return to China is almost certainly related to the imminent, and rare, delegates’ meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). Announced on June 26 as due in early September, sources in Seoul suggest it will be held on September 6-8. Anticipation is strong that Kim’s third son and putative heir Kim Jong-eun will at last be revealed in public and perhaps take on some official post. His full designation as successor is not expected until 2012: Juche 100 in the DPRK calendar as the centenary of its founder Kim Il-sung’s birth.

What has this to do with China? One possible precedent occurred a decade ago. In May 2000 Kim Jong-il made a secret visit to Beijing, just a fortnight before he hosted Kim Dae-jung in Pyongyang for the first ever inter-Korean summit. While so fiercely independent a regime would bridle at any suggestion of needing to seek anyone’s permission for anything, nonetheless it was prudent to ensure that so radical a foreign policy initiative was acceptable to the DPRK’s main protector and aid donor.

The same applies now, only more so. A delicate succession process, a clapped-out economy and a slow-burn nuclear crisis add up to a major headache for all concerned. In better times Kim can ignore China. But this is a tense juncture. The dear leader needs Hu Jintao, whom he probably met on this trip in Changchun, to bless Kim Jong-eun’s succession – and not dally with potential rivals like number one son Kim Jong-nam, living in quasi-exile in Macau, whose unprepossessing appearance belies an openness to much-needed reform. Kim may also be desperate for more Chinese aid, reportedly withheld on his last visit, so that Kim Jong-eun’s anointment can be marked in best Roman emperor style with panem et circenses: bread and circuses.

The question is what Hu will have demanded in return. Above all Beijing fears instability in its wayward neighbour. Its purported scepticism over March’s sinking of the ROK corvette Cheonan reaffirmed a refusal to paint the DPRK into a corner. Yet China is fed up with Kim Jong-il, and will hardly miss a chance to bring him into line at a moment of weakness. This time the price of yet more political and financial aid may have been twofold: real economic reform, and showing more willing as regards the long-stalled nuclear issue.

A sign of hope regarding economic reform, Pak Pong-ju is back after three years in the wilderness. As chemicals minister in 2002 Pak led an economic delegation to South Korea. In 2003 Pak was promoted to prime minister; on his watch the joint venture Kaesong Industrial Zone (KIZ) got up and running. In 2007 he was sacked in a backlash against reform. He resurfaced in August as a WPK deputy director, said to be in light industry: long the bailiwick of Kim Kyong-hui, the dear leader’s sister and Mrs Jang.

As for the nuclear issue, China’s negotiator Wu Dawei has been shuttling from Pyongyang to Seoul peddling a new three-stage plan to kick-start the stalled, if not dead, Six Party Talks (6PT). Wu got no joy in Seoul, whose foreign minister was away. Neither the ROK nor US will budge unless Pyongyang has something serious and substantial to say, both on the nuclear issue and the Cheonan. Such a hardline stance risks keeping them both out of the loop, at a time of ferment in Pyongyang. Yet Obama in particular has little choice at this juncture. Already assailed as he is by outrageous slings and arrows in an ever more toxic domestic political milieu, in the run-up to mid-term Congressional elections the last thing he can afford is the extra charge of being soft on Kim Jong-il.

Kim Jong-il’s Chinese jaunt –nominally secret, though the special train and convoys are hard to hide –took an unusual route from Manpo to Jian around 1 a.m. on August 26, reaching Jilin by 9 am. There Kim visited Yuwen middle school, which his father attended during 1927-30. If Kim Jong-eun came too, this doubtless served to cement the idea of revolutionary heredity.

On August 27 the Jilin-Changchun expressway was closed so Kim’s convoy could make the journey in safety and solitude. There he met Hu Jintao, and probably introduced his son. Leaving Changchun on August 28, Kim was thought to be headed home; but by nightfall his train had not crossed the border. Instead, he made one more stop-off in Harbin before heading home.. Perhaps it suits the dear leader and son to be out of town and miss the frantic last-minute preparations and machinations for the Big Day in early September. Yet such an absence does seem surprising. Are they ultra-confident, or running scared?

Aidan Foster-Carter is honorary senior research fellow in sociology and modern Korea at Leeds University, and a freelance consultant, writer and broadcaster on Korean affairs.

See the full text of the article here…

NCCK Committee for Reconciliation and Unification met with the KCF in Shenyang

2 09 2010

On August 23rd, 2010, representatives of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) Committee of Reconciliation and Unification met with Rev. Kang Young-sup, Rev. O Kyung-woo and Mr. Kim Hyun-chul from the Korean Christian Federation (KCF) in Shenyang, China. Rev. Jun Byung-Ho (Chair of the Committee), Rev. Kim Young-Joo, Rev. Chae Heawon (The Ecumenical Forum for Korea), Rev. Hwang Phil-Kyu were participating as the NCCK representatives.

1. Representatives from the South suggested they would make effort for Korean churches to mobilize humanitarian support in response to severe flood happened recently in the area of Shineuijoo. And Rev. Kang from the North said that he will inform more details about the situation attacked and victimized by the flood.

2. Both have agreed to prepare positively the Joint Prayer meeting of churches of North and South Korea pursuing the June 15 Summit Statement which is supposed to take place at the Bongsoo Church in Pyungyang, maybe after the middle of November, 2010. And the participation from overseas partner churches will be encouraged.

3. The invitation to the NCCK Annual Assembly on this coming November is offered to Rev. Kang Young-Sup, which is proposed by Rev. Jun Byung-Ho, the President of the NCCK.

4. It is mentioned by Rev. Chae Heawon (Coordinator for the EFK) that the steering committee meeting of the Ecumenical Forum for Korea is supposed to take place in Nanjing, on the beginning of November before or after the Amity Foundation round table meeting.

5. Regarding the supporting items to North Korea (flour amounted 17 tons donated by NCCK Unification Committee, PCK Social Service Department, PROK General Assembly, KMC Sebu Conference, the Ecumenical Forum for Korea), Rev. Kang Young-Sup expressed an appreciation for that.

Urging the government to support humanitarian aid with the excess stock of rice of South Korea to people victimized by the recent flood in the area of Sineuijoo


It was reported that the North Korean city of Sinuiju was struck by severe flood damage when the lower course of the Amnok (Yalu) River overflowed due to heavy rainfall started from August 7th, and in areas besides Sinuiju, lots of lives, homes, roads, and approximate 2458 ha of farmland are lost. Lot of people in North Korea who is already faced with severe food shortage is becoming vulnerable to death, and therefore North Korean government has unexpectedly requested the UN for emergency aid.

In this regard, both parties of South Korean government proposed the idea of humanitarian support to people victimized by the flood with the excess stock of rice of South Korea. The NCCK welcomes the move of this humanitarian support suggested by both parties.

The NCCK had already urged our [ROK] government as well as international society to support people in the North with necessary goods and food for their life on the principle of humanism on 5th of August. Now it, facing with the report of flood damage, urges again our government to support people victimized beside Shineuijoo with the excess stock of rice of South Korea before the full moon harvest season.

This year the expected amount of product is 4,810,000 tons and now we have 4,200,000 tons of rice in excess stock including rice produced by 2004, and therefore some part of the amount is getting rotten. According to this situation, the excess rice will be over 2,500,000 tons in the next year, and local governments are making every effort to find measures for expansion of consumption of rice by the harvest season and to adjust supply and demand. For this, it is expected that it costs a lot of millions. Even it is mentioned that the excess rice could be used for animal food.

Even in this moment when the North and South relation is getting more blocked since the Cheonan incident, to support rice to our brothers and sisters in the North who are starving due to the recent severe flood damage is one of our responsibility as one nation on humanitarian dimension. It could be an opportunity for our farming economy to be helped through sending the excess rice to the North.

We expect that through supporting humanitarian aid to people in the North suffering by severe flood it could be an opportunity for our government to recover its trust as one nation, and peace and reunification of this nation could be achieved on the basis of love, not of ideology.

August 26th, 2010

Rev. Kwon Oh-Sung, General Secretary
Rev. Jun Byung-Ho, Chair of Reconciliation and Unification Committee
The National Council of Churches in Korea

KWP Meeting in September 2010: Perpetuation of the Living Leader System or Transformation to the Enshrined Leader System?

2 09 2010

By Ruediger Frank (Policy Forum 10-037: July 8th, 2010)

The North Korean official news agency KCNA has announced a Politburo decision dated June 23, 2010 that in “early September” (9 wŏl sangsune) of this year, it will hold a conference of Party delegates (tang taep’yojahoe). At least in name, this is not a Party Congress (tang taehoe); the 6th and so far last such congress was held in 1980 (5th Party Congress: 1970, 4th Party Congress: 1961).

There have so far been only two such conferences of Party delegates – in 1958, and in 1966. The task of these conferences, which are supposed to take place every five years according to the Party statutes, is to coordinate the work of the Party between congresses. As 44 years have passed since the last conference of delegates and 30 years since the last Party congress, it is difficult to rely on the statutes to understand what the exact meaning the meeting in September will be. But obviously, it is an extraordinary event.

According to KCNA, the task of the delegates will be to elect the highest leading organ (ch’oego chidokigwan) of the Korean Worker’s Party, the ruling Communist Party of North Korea. Note that the announcement was not talking of the highest leading organ of the country; and that it did not mention a single person, but rather a leadership organ. As historical experience tells us, the latter can under certain circumstances be a euphemism for a single person, as was the case up to 1980 when Kim Jong-il was called the “Party Center” (tang chung’ang).

However, for the moment it makes much more sense to take the announcement at face value. The Party has not convened any Party Congress since 1980 and even elected Kim Jong-il to the post of Secretary General only by a somewhat unusual process in 1997. Rather than doing so during a Party plenum (the last one was held in 1993), he was endorsed by the Central Committee and the Central Military Committee of the Party. The Korean Worker’s Party which has operated very irregularly at least regarding formal procedures is now, finally, going to improve its functionality as the major power group in North Korean society.

The first reaction by observers has been to regard the delegate’s meeting in September as the moment when Kim Jong-il’s son Kim Jong-un (Kim Jong-ŭn) will be officially introduced as successor. Yet, while this is not entirely impossible, it does not necessarily seem to be the most likely outcome. Formally, if we look at the pattern of Kim Jong-il’s elevation to heir, the actual announcement of a successor (if there is one) would be the task of the 7th Party congress.

Another argument speaking against a formal announcement at this moment is the absence of any achievement of Kim Jong-un that can be convincingly presented to the people and to the elite in order to accept him as the new leader. Although North Korea is routinely described as a Communist dynasty by outsiders, being a relative of the leader does not seem to be a sufficient condition for succession. Kim Jong-il had to prove himself for many years before his father, the elite and the people. Only then was it considered safe to present him as the next leader. If Kim Jong-un is indeed involved in the meeting in September, he will most likely at first become the member of a team and as such become more visible. He can start building a reputation and an image, before in a next step he would possibly rise to the top.

If we look at North Korea from a more systemic and long-term point of view, another outcome of the Party meeting, or at least another interpretation thereof, emerges. […] Regime survival is, as most analysts agree, the major objective of the leadership in Pyongyang. To avoid an implosion and to ensure regime survival, the transformation of a totalitarian into an authoritarian regime seems inevitable. An important step in this ongoing process would be the replacement of the “living Great Leader system” by an “enshrined Great Leader system” which is ruled by a collective of people who are essentially top administrators from the various power groups of society.

This collective – the National Defense Commission, or a resuscitated Politburo, or a newly created Council for National Unification – will have to have a leader. However, he will be more like a primus inter pares, not a divine but an “ordinary” leader like the Pope in the Catholic Church. Inspiration, vision and legitimacy will be derived from the eternal leader Kim Il-sung and his only true prophet Kim Jong-il. Both have left so many often contradictory and ambiguous statements that in fact any policy would be possible based on their legacy. It is hence relatively open in which direction the country will move after this power transition is concluded.

In conclusion, I would argue that the wording of the announcement, formal issues, the short-term problem of creating legitimacy for a yet widely unknown grandson of Kim Il-sung, and a more systematic long-term analytical perspective suggest that the Party meeting in September will likely not announce a successor for Kim Jong-il, but rather create or upgrade a collective. This might or might not include Kim Jong-un; but it is hard to imagine that such a collective will not be headed by Kim Jong-il. This will be an important and long overdue step towards the perpetuation of political leadership in North Korea, and on the way toward transforming a static totalitarian system into a more flexible authoritarian one.

Read the full text of this article here…

Ruediger Frank, Professor of East Asian Economy and Society art the University of Vienna. List of publications by Ruediger Frank.

Hu’s message to Kim

2 09 2010

The Korea Herald, (Editorial 2010-08-3) China’s belated announcement on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s five-day visit to its northeastern provinces made clear what message the host, President Hu Jintao, gave his guest in their meeting on Friday in Changchun. […]  Beijing broke its silence about Kim’s tour only minutes after he crossed the Duman (Tumen) River Monday afternoon (August 30) to return to Pyongyang. The official Xinhua News Agency summarised the conversation between the two leaders which exposed what the two allies wanted from each other.

First, Hu called for the maintenance of high-level contacts on a regular basis. Second, bilateral trade and economic cooperation should be advanced through market operations at the initiatives of enterprises under government guidance. Third, strategic communication should be strengthened via prompt, thorough and in-depth dialogues to cope with regional and international situations.

While emphasising these principles, Hu lectured Kim on China’s experiences of a reform and opening-up drive over the past three decades for the central task of economic development and socialist modernisation. Xinhua News quoted him as saying: “Economic development calls for self-dependence but cannot be achieved without cooperating with the outside world. This is the inevitable path of the times that accelerates the development of a country.”

At one point in their discussion on security affairs, Hu referred to the UN Security Council presidential statement on the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan. He stressed the need to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula which “accords with the common aspiration of the people.” These remarks indicate China’s consideration of the attack as a serious threat to the regional peace although it had deterred the UNSC from adopting a resolution directly condemning North Korea.

Kim Jong-il’s reported expression of hope for an early resumption of the six-party talks and the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula could just be lip service to his hosts, who have endeavoured to resolve the issue through the multilateral process over the past seven years. But it is certain that China pressed the North to return to the Beijing conference table, which it has boycotted since early last year.

The Chinese and North Korean announcements on Kim’s visit could not explain the atmosphere of urgency and secrecy which prevailed throughout the tour as well as the summit talks in Changchun. Kim hurriedly left for the tour on Thursday when former US President Jimmy Carter was in Pyongyang to get the release of a jailed American citizen. It was particularly discourteous in that Carter was the last foreign guest of Kim’s father, Kim Il-sung, before his death in 1994.

Speculations had it that the North Korean leader with deteriorating health might have wanted to have the Chinese leadership endorse his plan to transfer power to his third son Kim Jong-eun. In return for his cooperation with China in its efforts to resume the six-party talks, Kim must have also asked for generous economic aid plus emergency supplies for the relief of flood victims.

With its advice on economic reform and openness, China is believed to have consented to a certain level of aid to the North to help stabilise its economy, which is staggering after the botched currency reform late last year. Yet, there was little hint of China making any positive response to the dynastic power transfer plan.

In the summit talks, Kim repeatedly emphasised the importance of developing DPRK-China friendship “for generations and centuries”. Xinhua did not report these remarks by itself but quoted a dispatch from the North Korean official Central News Agency. The KCNA quoted Kim as saying, according to Xinhua: “With the international situation remaining complicated, it was the important historical mission of the DPRK to hand over the baton of the traditional friendship to the next generation as a precious asset”…

See the full text of the article here…

Kim Jong-il is making a surprise visit to China, South Korean officials say

Rick Wallace (The Australian, 27 Aug. 2010) Kim’s armoured train was detected crossing the border yesterday morning. “We are now in the process of finding out specific destinations and the purpose (of the trip),” an official told the Yonhap news agency. Kim visited China in May and is thought by some experts to have brought his apparent successor, youngest son Kim Jong-un, to meet Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao. It was unclear whether Kim was accompanied by his son yesterday and China declined to comment.

Leonid Petrov from the Australian National University said it was a strange time for Kim’s trip and it would have to be something “urgent”. The main rail line between the countries was cut for a time two days ago and remained in a poor state after flooding. Dr Petrov suspected a ruse to give Kim a reason to avoid meeting former US president Jimmy Carter, who arrived in Pyongyang this week to seek the release of an American detained for trespassing. This would be Mr Kim’s sixth trip to China, his country’s largest benefactor.