North Korea’s Dynasty Enters Third Generation

24 12 2011

By HAMISH MCDONALD (The Canberra Timea, 24 Dec, 2011)

The life of Kim Jong-il may have ended, as it began, in the official hagiography surrounding the secluded dictator of North Korea, with a lie. […] The myths of the Kim guerilla dynasty are not being discarded but actually strengthened as this contemporary version of the ancient Korean ”hermit kingdom” moves into succession by the third generation. The chosen ”Great Successor” – Kim Jong-il’s third son, Kim Jong-un – was consciously picked by his ailing father as a political throwback, one who would not change the rigid political system but intensify its hereditary personality cult even further.

In 2003 a Japanese sushi chef, one of a succession of cooks imported to serve Kim Jong-il’s famous epicurism amid the endemic starvation among the North Koreans, reported that the youngest son exhibited suspicion and a ”glaring ferocity” towards strangers, notes Bradley Martin, author of the compendious study of the Kim dynasty, Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader.

”All we know is what the sushi chef told us: he’s the meanest and most aggressive of the children,” Martin elaborated by phone this week. ”And that’s why Kim Jong-il liked him. We have to assume he was chosen because of hope that he would continue the old policies.”

Moreover, the chubby-faced son looks uncannily like his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, which Martin and many other analysts think is being played up. ”He’s got the same haircut his grandfather had when he made that speech in 1945 right after the Soviets brought him back – a critic at the time wrote disparagingly of this ‘Chinese waiter’s haircut’ – and he wears the old-style Mao tunics,” Martin said. ”There’s even rumours he’s had plastic surgery. They do have a big plastic surgery operation at the hospital where the elite go in Pyongyang: they use it for agents to make them prettier or more handsome so they can seduce people abroad. That is branding, because they all knew that the father was not popular. They are hoping this kid will revive memories of the glory days, such as they were.”

Kim Jong-un emerged as the heir apparent, given a four-star general’s rank in the 1.1 million-strong Korean People’s Army and taken on his father’s visits to China and Russia to be introduced, after Kim Jong-il’s severe stroke in August 2008 telescoped what would otherwise have been a more careful preparation to succeed – like Kim Jong-il’s own nomination in 1981, 13 years before Kim Il-sung died.

But already the more obvious successor had been knocked out. Oldest son Kim Jong-nam had caused great embarrassment in 2001 when he was caught taking a family group into Japan on fake Dominican Republic passports – to visit Tokyo Disneyland. He dropped out of Pyongyang circles and since then has spent much of the time pursuing business interests in China and Macau.

This was a convenient excuse for his father, say some specialists. Kim Jong-il had spent his early career known as the shadowy ”Party centre” enforcing orthodoxy on Kim Il-sung’s ”Juche” (Self-Reliance) development ideology. Then in power himself, he had pushed the Korean Workers’ Party to one side, and proclaimed a ”Songun” (Army First) strategy – in recent years amending the constitution to make the National Defence Commission the supreme authority and its chairman (himself) the country’s top leader.

According to Russian officials like General Konstantin Pulikovsky, who travelled with Kim on his long train trips to Moscow (he hated flying), Kim could never be persuaded to think beyond centralised planning and heavy industry, the classic Leninist-Stalinist model. ”Kim Jong-il would always say something like North Korea can’t be a capitalist country because it’s a small country,” says Leonid Petrov from Sydney University, a Korea scholar trained at the Institute of Oriental Studies in St Petersburg.

Worse than the Disneyland gaffe, the oldest son was showing signs of wanting to change the system. ”It is said that Kim Jong-nam lost favour because he had conflicting ideas with his father on national development and was not satisfied with his father’s Songun policies and his provocative and confrontational external policies,” says Cai Jian, a professor specialising in north-east Asia at Shanghai’s Fudan University.

”There were reports to say that he was indiscreet and told his friends if he took power he’d reform the economy,” Martin also heard. ”He is very close with the Chinese. He would have been their choice for the job.” Indeed, US diplomatic cables from China, revealed by WikiLeaks, show Chinese officials reluctant to acclaim the younger son at first.

Still, Kim Jong-un is only somewhere between 27 and 29, and little is known about his upbringing except for a short spell at a private school in Switzerland. Can he really develop into a strong leader in his own right? Or will he be a figurehead while factions and contenders emerge from the army, the party, the bureaucracy, and the Pyongyang elite?

Petrov says it could be anything up to three years before it becomes clear, with the appointment of the chairman of the National Defence Commission to replace Kim Jong-il. The second in charge at present , as first vice-chairman, is the brother-in-law of the dead leader, Jang Song-taek, an urbane 65-year-old with military and Chinese connections as well as his dynastic link through marriage to Kim’s sister, Kim Kyong-hui. The couple are mentors to the successor, and Jang could become effectively a regent.

”We will have to see who is going to become the commission’s chairman,” Petrov says. ”If it’s Jang it’s going be a kind of collective leadership, but if Kim Jong-un becomes chairman, this would put Jang and other military in the second position. I am not sure it will be done immediately. They might keep this post empty for one, two or three years, like it was in the mourning period after Kim Il-sung died…”

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N. Korea’s Mineral Exports to China Tripled from Last Year

3 12 2011

 (Seoul, Yonhap, 2011/11/06)  A joint study of Chinese data by Yonhap News Agency and Seoul-based IBK Economic Research Institute showed that China imported 8.42 million tons of minerals from North Korea from January to September this year, worth US$852 million.

Over the first nine months of last year, China brought in 3.04 million tons of minerals from the North for $245 million. Most of the minerals were anthracite coals, the data showed. This year, of 8.42 million tons, 8.19 tons were anthracites. China is the sole major ally and the biggest economic benefactor for North Korea, a reclusive regime under international economic sanctions following its nuclear and long-range missile tests.

Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at the IBK institute, said North Korea may be trying to earn much-needed hard currency as it aims to become a powerful and prosperous country by 2012. “Last year, North Korea ordered its institutions to meet their goals in foreign currency income by this year,” Cho said. “Since exporting minerals is a military business, we can see that the military is trying to meet its target. In addition, the steep mineral export growth was attributable to the lifting of the cap on the amount of mineral exports, as ordered by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.”

China appears to be trying to stockpile mineral resources at affordable prices, Cho added. North Korean anthracites were traded at an average of $101 per ton, whereas the international standard for quality anthracites is $200 per ton. “Given that North Korean coals are of very good quality, trade with China must have been made at a fairly low price,” Cho said.

Meanwhile, sources said North Korean authorities last month entirely halted its coal exports, as the impoverished country fears a shortage of energy resources during the upcoming winter. From January to September this year, China exported 732,000 tons of minerals to North Korea, most of them crude oil.

North Korea’s closed economy contracted for a second year in a row

 (By Jeremy Laurence, Reuters, Nov 3, 2011) – North Korea’s closed economy contracted for a second year in a row last year due to international sanctions, sluggish agricultural production and a slowdown in manufacturing, South Korea’s central bank said on Thursday.

In a report issued by the Bank of Korea (BOK), the North’s centrally-planned economy was estimated to have shrunk 0.5 percent year-on-year in 2010 compared with a 0.9 percent contraction in 2009.

“Last year, the North Korean economy contracted as economic conditions at home and abroad worsened amid energy shortages and international sanctions and its manufacturing sector remained sluggish,” said BOK official Park Yung-hwan.

Seoul’s assessment of its neighbor’s economy does not auger well for the North’s ambitious drive to become a “strong and prosperous nation” by 2012 when it celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of the state’s founder Kim Il-sung.

The North currently ranks as one of the world’s poorest and least developed states. It does not release economic data, and the South calculates the figures through specialist institutes which monitor the North’s economy.

The BOK report said North Korea’s nominal gross national income (GNI) amounted to 30 trillion won (US$26.5 billion) last year, which is only 2.56 percent of South Korea’s GNI of 1,173 trillion won. Meanwhile, inter-Korean trade grew 13.9 percent year-on-year to $1.91 billion, the BOK said…


…The North’s moribund economy has also been affected by poor agriculture production, as a result of summer flooding and a particularly harsh winter. The BOK said its agricultural and fishery industry contracted 2.1 percent last year from a year earlier, and its manufacturing sector declined 0.3 percent in 2010, the BOK said.

The North has suffered chronic food shortages for about two decades due to mismanagement, isolation and natural disasters, making it dependent on foreign donors to fill the food gap. Aid agencies say the food situation has worsened this year as foreign aid deliveries have slowed.

Seoul and Washington, which had been the North’s biggest food donors until a few years ago, have suspended food aid to the North over monitoring concerns. South Korea has also said it will only resume aid when the North denuclearizes. The United States sent a team to the North earlier this year to assess the food situation, but has said it is still undecided on resuming aid.

Pyongyang has reached out for help this year, saying it wants to rejoin regional aid-for-denuclearization talks. The North quit the talks more than two years ago…