Do of the day no joke

30 03 2014

NKOREA-POLITICS-KIM(By James Giggacher, ANU Asia & Pacific, 28 March 2014) North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has again caught the attention of international media, but not for the usual sabre-rattling or Dennis Rodman roadshow he’s known for. This time it’s his hair that’s made the headlines.

According to reports from Radio Free Asia, a state-sanctioned directive requiring male students to cut their hair in the same style as their leader has been rolled out across the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The guideline was introduced in the capital Pyongyang two weeks ago. But in a place known for its secrecy and subterfuge, questions have been raised about whether the story is even true.

According to North Korea expert Dr Leonid Petrov from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, it’s “nothing sensational at all”. “Back in 2004, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s state TV launched a propaganda campaign called ‘Let us trim our hair in accordance with socialist lifestyle’,” says Petrov.

“It recommended a relatively generous range of 28 hairstyles for its citizens, claiming that they are ‘the most comfortable’ styles and capable of warding off the corrupting effects of capitalism.” Petrov adds that young men were more restricted; their hair had to be less than five centimetres long and they were required to have a haircut every 15 days.

“Longer hair apparently takes away nutrition from their brains,” says Petrov. “Older men, whose brains are presumably in decline anyway, were allowed to rock out with hair as long as seven centimetres.”

The ‘socialist lifestlye’ haircuts are tied closely to North Korea’s philosophy of Juche, or self-reliance, which the regime uses to distance itself from ‘the West’. “And while North Korea enforces haircuts, some foreigners choose the Juche-style voluntarily,” says Petrov.

So who knows; the next time the leader is in the media it may not be as agent provocateur, but rather for a perm. It’s a hair-raising issue either way you look at it.

No Kim Jong Un summit meeting for Mongolian President

31 10 2013

mongolia-president-dprk(BY CHAD O’CARROLL , OCTOBER 31, 2013) Mongolia’s President Tsakhia Elbegdorj left North Korea on Thursday afternoon with DPRK state media providing no confirmation as to whether an expected meeting with Kim Jong Un had taken place.

Prior to Elbegdorj’s arrival South Korean media speculated that the Mongolian leader would have a summit meeting with Kim Jong Un – an encounter that would have represented the North Korean leaders’ first official meeting with another head of state.

But no information of such a meeting was released by North Korean state media, suggesting that Kim Jong Un did not in fact meet the Mongolian leader. ”The lack of mention of the North Korean leader meeting Elbegdorj indicates that no summit took place,” an anonymous official told Yonhap News in South Korea.

[…] Leonid Petrov, a North Korea researcher at the Australian National University, said that Kim Jong Un’s choice to attend live fire drills over meeting with Elbegdorj indicated that military-first policies remain a key priority.

“Kim Jong Un has sent the signal to the world and domestic audience in the DPRK that the era of Songun [Army First] Policy is not going to fade away; and that economic reform is of less importance for him than military build up.

“Apolitical foreign celebrities, like Dennis Rodman, attract more attention of the North Korean leader than concerned heads of states and CEOs of multinational corporations” Petrov added, pointing out that “regional security, stability and progress are clearly of low priority for Kim Jong Un and his advisors.”

[…] During his trip the Mongolian leader inked economic and technology sharing agreements with North Korea and paid visits to the Kumsusan memorial palace and truce village of Pnamunjom, located in the demilitarized zone.  Elbegdorj also delivered a speech to Mongolian entrepreneurs and DPRK economic officials at the Yanggakdo International Hotel.

The Mongolian president is the first foreign leader to visit North Korea since Kim Jong Un assumed power in late 2011. The last summit meeting between Mongolia and North Korea took place in December 2004.

See the full text of the article here…

Kim Jong-un stars in new North Korean TV documentary

8 01 2012

(The Telegraph, 08 Jan 2012) On what is believed to be Kim Jong-un’s birthday, North Korea’s state television broadcasts a new documentary on the ‘Great Successor’ in which he rides tanks, horses and a fairground ride.

The documentary is the second in a week seeking to highlight Kim Jong-un’s experience in leading North Korea’s 1.2 million-strong military and was aimed at showing that he was in charge of the armed forces long before his father, former leader Kim Jong-il, died of a heart attack last month.

The film, entitled Succeeding great work of military-first revolution, showed new footage of Kim Jong-un in various locations such as military bases, parades and even an amusement park.

The footage, according to broadcaster KRT, was filmed when Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, was still alive.

Sunday reportedly also marks Kim Jong-un’s birthday, although the documentary appears to make no mention of the landmark. North Korea tends to recognise the birthday of its leaders as a national holiday as part of efforts to deify them.

The son, who is in his late 20s, has moved swiftly into the role of “supreme leader” of the people, the ruling Workers’ Party and the military despite questions abroad about how easily he could assume power with only a few years of grooming behind him. Kim Jong-il, in contrast, had 20 years of training when his father, North Korea founder Kim Il-sung, died of a heart attack in 1994.

LP’s video comment… NK State Media creates personality cult

은둔국가의 절대적인 지도자 김정은

3 01 2012

(김혜선 기자, 호주국민헤럴드 12月22日2011年)  ‘은둔국가의 절대적인 지도자’, ‘핵무기 개발로 일본과 한국 등 전세계를 위협하는 독재정치로 경재를 더욱 궁핍하게 만든 인물’, ‘기근과 경제적 어려움에도 야만적인 정권을 유지해온, 정치적으로 노련하고 무자비한 지도자’등은 세계언론들이 북한 김정일에 대한 다양한 평가들이다. 갑작스런 김정일의 사망을 둘러싸고 많은 의혹들과 미래의 남북한 문제들에 관한 여러 예견들이 난무한 가운데 본지는 12월 20일 시드니대학교 한국학과 교수이며 한국전문가인 레오니드 페트로브교수와 전화인터뷰를 하였다. 그는 캔버라 출장 중에 있었다.

1.    김정일의 사망에 관해 많은 의혹들이 있는데(특히 2달 전에 이미 김정일이 사망을 했고 그 후 쿠테타가 일어났었다는 설까지도) 그런 의혹들에 대한 생각과 김정일의 부재는 북한의 미래에 어떤 영향을 미치게 될까?

김일성은 1986년 소련의 정치적 붕괴이전 심한 스트레스로 인한 심장마비가 왔었는데 그 당시에 김일성의 사망 루머가 있었다. 1994년 7월 8일 삼지연 별장에서 다시 심장마비가 왔었고 기상악화로 헬기가 뜨지 못해 큰 병원으로의 이송에 실패하면서 죽음을 맞게 되었다. 김일성은 1994년 9월 김영삼 전 대통령과 한국에서의 첫 회담을 결정 한 후 보수세력들의 강한 반대로 많은 스트레스를 받았다고 한다. 김정일 역시 그때와 비슷한 상황이 발생한 것 같다. 김정일은 2012년을 북한이 ‘강성대국’이 되는 해로 정해놨었다. 그래서 북한의 주민들은 2012년이 오기만을 기다리고 있었고 김정일은 내부적으로 경제적문제나 외교적인 문제로 많은 스트레스를 받았을 것으로 본다. 이미 한번 쓰러진 병력이 있는 김정일은 열차를 타고 가다 심장에 문제가 발생했고 충분한 의료장비가 없었기 때문에 심근경색이라는 사안으로 죽음을 맞게 된 것이라 생각된다. 북한에서의 쿠테타란 있을 수 없다. 북한의 정권체제를 잘 모르는 사람들이 쿠테타란 말을 쓰는 것 같다. 김정일은 자신의 부재를 완전히 준비했다. 김정은을 자신의 후계자로 지목하고 철저하게 정권이양을 했다. 김정은 정권체제의 향후 2-3년 동안의 행보가 북한의 미래에 큰 영향을 끼칠 것으로 본다.

2.    김정일의 사망 이후 북한과 중국과의 관계에 변화가 있을거라 생각하는가?

중국과 북한의 관계는 미국과 한국과의 관계에 비례한다. 이명박 대통령의 친미정책은 북한과 중국과의 관계를 더 결속하게 만들었다. 중국이 강조하는 3No가 있다. 한반도전쟁 No, 북한이 무너지는 것 No, 미군기지가 중국국경에 근접해있는 것 No. 중국도 남북한의 문제로 머리가 복잡하다. 중국과 북한의 관계에 김정일의 부재는 그리 큰 영향을 끼칠 것으로 보지는 않는다.

3.    6자 회담을 앞둔 김정일의 죽음이 남북한의 관계와 한반도 통일의 문제, 그리고 국제정세에는 어떤 영향을 미치게 될 것인가?

북한의 핵문제를 해결하기 위해서는 한국전쟁이 끝나야 한다. 남북한은 1945년 일본으로부터 해방은 되었지만 통일국가를 수립하는데 실패하고 1948년 남북한에 각각 정권이 들어서면서 분단을 맞게 되었다. 1950년 발발했던 한국전쟁은 미국등 16개국의 연합군, 그리고 중국과 소련이 개입이 되면서3차 세계전쟁으로 확산될 위험까지도 있었다. 한국전쟁은 1953년 7월 27일 당사자인 한국은 제외된 채 유엔측 대표와 북한 대표간의 18통의 휴전 협정문서에 서명을 함으로 휴전협정이 이루어지고 휴전만 한 상태로 오늘날까지 이르게 되었다. 현재 미국은 북한에 강경한 태도로 일관하고 있으며 북한의 주위의 국가들에게까지 경계의 눈초리를 보내고 있는 시점에서 친북을 하던 주변국가들은 미국의 눈치보기에 급급하여 북한은 무역이나 교육 등 외국과의 교류는 현재 전혀 생각 조차도 못하고 있는 실정이다. 미국이 외교적으로 북한을 인정하지 않고 북한이 고립된 상태로 있는 한 북한의 핵 문제는 해결점을 생각하기는 어려울 것이다. 북한의 핵 문제는 북한이 외교적 문제에서, 특히 미국과의 문제가 해결이 되었을 때(미국이 전쟁을 먼저 시작하지 않을 것이란 확신이 섰을 때) 자연스럽게 해결될 문제이다. 강경했던 김정일의 부재는 미국과 북한과의 대화를 자연스럽게 이끌어낼 가능성을 생각해볼 수 있다. 북한이 미국과의 전쟁의 위협에서 안정이 되고 좀더 경제적으로 자립할 위치에 있게 되고 남한과의 교류가 자연스럽게 이루어질때 그때가 남북한 통일의 문제에 관해서 이야기할 수 있는 시점이 되지 않을까 싶다. 미국이나 일본, 중국과 러시아가 개입된 6자 회담보다 제일 당사자인 북한과 한국과의 교류나 대화가 더 중요하다. 미국이나 일본, 중국 그 어느 나라도 남북한의 통일을 원하는 나라는 없다.

페트로브교수는 북한이 더 이상 고립되지 않도록 자연스럽게 국제사회로 이끌어 내는 일이 중요하다고 강조하였다. 교수는 6자회담에 별 희망을 거는것 같지 않았다. 그와의 인터뷰를 하는 동안 한반도 분단구조를 유지하려는 주변의 국가들과 한반도의 문제를 공유해야며 북한에 문제가 있을 때마다 미국의 시나리오안에서 움직일 수 밖에 없는 남한의 현실을 너무 당연하게 받아들이고 있는 우리들이 안타깝게만 느껴졌다. 북한이 앞으로 어떠한 위치에 처하든, 경제적 그리고 외교적인 어떠한 문제들도 결국은 우리가 안고가야할, 우리들만의 문제이고 과제임을 잊어서는 않될 것이다.

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…”

See the full text of the article here…

Kim Jong-il celebrates successful visit to Russia and China

30 08 2011

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il attended a banquet to congratulate him on his successful recent visits to Russia and China, the North’s state media said Monday.  The banquet was hosted by his son, Kim Jong-eun, on behalf of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party and the National Defense Commission.

Radio Free Asia has asked me to share opinion on the following issues:

RFA: Why do you think Kim Jong-il made a stopover at China?

LP: On his way back from Russia, Kim Jong-il spent a night in the northeastern city of Hulunbeier, China’s Inner Mongolia, after arriving from the eastern Siberian city of Ulan-Ude. Then Kim Jong Il visited northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province on Friday at the company of Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo.

In a meeting with Kim, Dai, conveyed sincere greetings from President Hu Jintao to Kim and welcomed Kim on behalf of the CPC, the Chinese government and people. Kim thanked China’s warm hospitality and conveyedhis sincere greetings to Hu. Dai said that after an interval of three months, Kim visited China again that fully demonstrated the high attention attached by Kim to the consolidation and growth of China-DPRK ties. “Along with DPRK comrades, we are willing to earnestlyimplement important consensus reached by the top leaders of our two countries andpromote the continuous growth of our ties,” Dai said.

Kim said China and DPRK are close neighbors and should have frequent contacts. “Every time I visited China, I can feel the friendly affections from the Chinese people tothe Korean people,” he said. He spoke highly of the development momentum of current China-DPRK ties. Bilateralexchanges and cooperation should be enhanced between different departments andlocalities of the two countries in various areas, he said. During his stay in Heilongjiang, Kim visited the cities of Qiqihar and Daqing. In Qiqihar, Kim toured Qier Machine Tool Group Co., a large state-owned enterprise, and Mengniu Dairy, a leading Chinese dairy producer. In Daqing, he toured an urban planningexhibition hall and a residential district. “I’ve seen new changes every time I came here,” Kim Jong-il said. He wished that China would smoothly realize the goals set in its 12th Five-year Plan under the leadership of the CPC.

RFA: Also why he didn’t bring his son, Kim Jong-eun?

LP: North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s heir apparent son, Kim Jong-eun, was on standby during his father’s trip to Russia and China because the joint ROK-US military drill Ulchi Freedom Guardian was continuing on the peninsula. The joint training of 56 thousand South Korean and 30 thousand US American troops kept North Korean leadership alerted. Since Kim Jong-eun is the Vice-chair of the KWP Military Committee, his presence in the country was symbolically important during the absence of his father, the Chairman of National Defence Committee, and Kim Yong-Chun, Minister of the People’s Armed Forces.

RFA: How do you view the impact of  Kim’s summit with Russian President Medvedev?

LP: The rare summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev became a very important step toward resuming the long-stalled nuclear disarmament talks with the North. Russia and North Korea also moved forward on a proposal to build a pipeline that will ship Russian natural gas to both Koreas. Simultaneously, North Korea and Russia signed a protocol calling for economic cooperation between the two countries. Last Friday, a Russian economic delegation, led by Minister of Regional Development Viktor Basargin, was in North Korea to sign “a protocol of the 5th Meeting of the DPRK-Russia Intergovernmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology,”

Highest-ranking N. Korean defector Hwang Jang-yop found dead

10 10 2010

SEOUL, Oct. 10 (Yonhap) Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking North Korean ever to defect to South Korea, was found dead at his home Sunday, police said, adding no attack is suspected in his death.

Police said the 87-year-old Hwang appears to have died of old age, saying there was no signs of a break-in at his home in Seoul where a security guard was staying together with him.

In the meantime in Pyongyang…

SEOUL, Oct. 10 (Yonhap) North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his heir-apparent son reviewed a massive military parade Sunday that marked the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party, television footage showed, as Pyongyang steps up a campaign to pave the way for the son to take over.

Live footage from Pyongyang showed Kim and his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, watching the parade from the reviewing stand at Kim Il-sung Square in the capital city. It was rare for the North to televise such an event live, which shows the importance of the show to the regime.

Kim Jong-un’s Rise Marks the Beginning of Hereditary Transfer of Power

1 10 2010

SEOUL (Yonhap, 30 Sep.) — As widely anticipated, North Korea officially started a hereditary power succession this week when its leader Kim Jong-il named his youngest son a military general and its ruling party gave him key political posts during the biggest party convention in decades.

In the party conference held on Sept. 28, North Korea appointed its leader’s youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in reports monitored in Seoul.

The North Korean leader named his third son, believed to be 28 years old, as a four-star general a day before the party conference, confirming speculation that the heir apparent has now started the process of succeeding his ailing father. It was the first time the son’s name has been mentioned by Pyongyang’s state media.

Analysts said Kim Jong-un’s rise marked Pyongyang’s first step to officially put the prince in line to take over the family dynasty in what would be the second-ever hereditary transfer of power in communism. […] Little is known about Kim Jong-un, who was also named at the conference as a member of the party’s central committee, which the North has repeatedly stressed this year must be “protected with life.”

“As a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, Kim Jong-un will strengthen his grip on the military” that operates 1.2 million troops and forms the basis of the Kim dynasty’s power, said Yang Moo-jin, an expert at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. But Kim Jong-un was not included among the newly elected standing members of the Political Bureau of the party, suggesting he had some work ahead of him to complete the succession plan.

In a reshuffle apparently aimed at assisting the power transfer, Kim Kyong-hui, the 64-year-old sister of Kim Jong-il, also became a member of the WPK Central Committee, the KCNA said, adding that her power-holding husband, Jang Song-thaek, became a member of the Central Military Commission. Jang is already a vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, whose decisions have overridden most of those of any other organ in the country since Kim Jong-il seized power.

Jang is also the Workers’ Party’s director of administration with responsibility for the police, judiciary and other areas of internal security – the second most powerful post in the ruling party. Jang did not receive a general’s post because he already holds the powerful title of vice chairman of the National Defense Commission.

Kim Jong-il made his sister, who oversees the North’s light industries, a four-star general on Sept. 27 along with his third son, whose two older brothers have apparently fallen out of favor over the years. The North Korean leader’s appointment of his sister to such a post backed speculation over those who will serve as the young Jong-un’s guardians until he builds up enough experience and power.

The promotion of Jong-un’s aunt as general also demonstrates Kim Jong-il’s wish to protect his son within the military and the party. The aunt and her husband, Jang Song-thaek, are known to be supportive of Jong-un as heir to the throne, and Kim seems to be relying more on family as his health wanes.

Notable among the profiles released by the official KCNA was that of Ri Yong-ho, chief of the general staff of the North’s Korean People’s Army. Ri, who was promoted to the rank of vice marshal, rose as a standing member of the Political Bureau along with three others, including Jo Myong-rok, a vice marshal who visited the United States as a special envoy in 2000.

Little is known about the man other than his service as commander of the capital defense forces before his promotion last year to his current post, which is equivalent to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in South Korea. Ri was born in the same year as the 68-year-old leader Kim Jong-il, according to the KCNA. The oldest among the four new members are Kim Yong-nam and Jo Myong-rok, both 82, thus making Ri one of the two youngest along with Kim Jong-il on the panel, according to the release.

“The Conference marked a significant occasion that demonstrated the revolutionary faith and will of all the party members, servicepersons and people,” the KCNA said, calling on them to continue to uphold the military-first policy chartered by Kim…

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N. Koreans may be frustrated with the government and likely rise of Kim Jong Eun

10 09 2010

By Chico Harlan (Washington Post, September 8, 2010)

SEOUL – Almost every night, seeking to gather opinion from a country where opinion is often punishable, Kim Eun Ho calls North Korea. He talks mostly to people in Hoeryong city in Hamgyong-bukto province, and the conversations never last long. Hoeryong city employs 14 men who monitor the region’s phone conversations, Kim believes, and typically they can tap a call within two or three minutes. Kim says he knows this because, as a North Korean police officer before he defected in December 2008, he sometimes monitored the conversations.

But these days, with Pyongyang preparing for a Workers’ Party convention that could trumpet the rise of leader Kim Jong Il’s youngest son, Kim Eun Ho and other defectors who speak regularly to North Koreans hear plenty of opinions reflecting what he described as a broad sentiment against hereditary succession. “Of 10 people I talk to,” he said, “all 10 have a problem with Kim Jong Eun taking over.”

Just as North Koreans know little about their potential future leader, the rest of the world knows almost nothing about North Korean opinions. Recent academic research, based on surveys with defectors, suggests that North Koreans are growing frustrated with a government that allowed widespread starvation in the early 1990s and orchestrated brutal currency reform in 2009 that was designed to wipe out the private markets that enable most residents to feed themselves.

The defectors are motivated to emphasize the worst-case scenario in their homeland. There are some who think that Kim Jong Eun will take power and gradually lead North Korea to Soviet-style reforms. Some defectors say that even though the younger Kim is largely unknown, they hope he’ll allow for a free economy after his father dies.

Still, in South Korea, an emerging patchwork of mini-samples suggests that many North Koreans view their government as a failed anachronism, and they see the young general, as he’s called, as a sign of the status quo. They associate Kim Jong Eun with the December 2009 currency revaluation. They don’t know his age – he’s thought to be in his late 20s – but they think he’s too young to be anything more than a figurehead.

Sohn Kwang Joo, chief editor of the Daily NK, a Seoul-based publication focusing on North Korea, receives frequent reports from stringers in four North Korean provinces. Those ground-level reporters, gathering information mostly from intellectuals, farmers and laborers, suggest to Sohn that “eight or nine out of every 10 people are critical of Kim Jong Eun.”

A recent report from PSCORE, a Seoul-based nongovernmental organization promoting harmony on the Korean Peninsula, suggested that two party officials were sent to a gulag last month for slandering the chosen heir. Kim Young Il, a PSCORE director who was in China during Kim Jong Il’s recent trip, said: “Criticism of Kim Jong Eun is very strong. . . . What you see now is face-level loyalty, but it’s not genuine.”

Kim Eun Ho, the former North Korean police officer, works as a reporter for Seoul-based Free North Korea Radio. The nightly routine testifies to the difficulty of gathering information from within the world’s most reclusive state. Kim first calls a friend who lives close to the Chinese border, where a smuggled foreign cellphone receives a clear signal. When Kim reaches his friend, the friend uses a second phone – a North Korean line – to call one of Kim’s police sources in Pyongyang. The friend then places the North Korean phone and the Chinese phone side-by-side, volume raised on the receivers, allowing Kim an indirect, muffled connection. For extra caution, the conversations rely on code words.

“For general citizens, Kim Jong Eun is vastly unpopular,” Kim says. “People cannot take him seriously, in reality. He just suddenly appeared, and he’s too young.” A defector-based survey released in March, co-written by North Korea experts Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard, provided the first sharp indication of growing discontent with Kim Jong Il’s regime, linked in large part to an information seal that no longer keeps everything out. North Koreans have access to South Korean television shows. Some travel to China for business.

For now, though, experts and U.S. officials see little likelihood that North Koreans’ closely guarded skepticism about their government will pose a threat to the government. Without churches and social clubs, North Koreans have few places where opinion can harden into resistance. “They’ve almost perfected the system of social control,” says Katy Oh Hassig, an expert on North Korea at the Institute for Defense Analyses, which does research for the Pentagon.

Like Kim Eun Ho, Jin Sun Rak, director of Free North Korea Radio, calls his old country almost every night. His wife and 14-year-old daughter live in North Korea. He decided to defect – telling nobody but his brother – in 2008, after traveling to China and seeing the relative wealth. The first time he went, hoping to sell 80 grams of unrefined gold, he bribed a border guard and carried a dagger, tucked near the lower part of a leg. His first night in China was “beyond imagination.” He said he went to a restaurant, had some drinks and ended up at a karaoke bar where he knew none of the songs. Days later, he returned to North Korea with some money and a new frame of reference.

“Whenever they say something,” Jin said of the government, “they’re lying. They’re as worthless as barking dogs.” As for a greater cynicism about the government, Jin said: “I think it’s something unstoppable now. People’s minds have been changed. Young people know the value of money. They don’t want to be party members anymore. They’ve been exposed to the private markets.” Jin, who lives in Seoul, rarely talks to his wife and daughter. He doesn’t think it’s safe to tell them his opinion…

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.

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