Kim Jong Un, Carter and volcanos

Cairns on Baekdu Mountain (border between Nort...

Cairns on Mt. Paektu

[The following article was written by Bradley K. Martin, the author of “Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty,”.  It appeared in Global Post. The article touches on a number of interesting points: The continuing career of heir apparent Kim Jong Un; possible (more cynical) motives for seeking food aid; Carter’s impending visit to try to usher in new nuclear talks; and the possibility of underground nuclear tests destabilizing Mt. Paektu’s volcanic core. Original below:]

Not seeing or hearing the names Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un in the news as often as before? Please don’t imagine the irrepressible twosome somehow slipped down a crack.

It’s just that an intensive news focus worldwide on the Japanese triple crisis of earthquake, tsunami and partial reactor meltdown and the Arab Spring and Libyan civil war have been overshadowing the antics of the father-son North Korean leadership team. The Kims are carrying on, and can be expected to resume hogging the headlines again before long. Read the rest of this entry »

Power Restructuring in North Korea by Ruediger Frank

Kim Il-sung

Kim Il Sung

Ruediger Frank, Professor of East Asian Economy and Society at the University of Vienna and long-time friend of CanKor, is one of the most astute DPRK-watchers. He has written an analysis of the third delegate’s meeting of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK) that took place on 28 September 2010. Some questions have been answered, he writes, for example the emergence of Kim Jong Il as the undisputed leader. Others have not been answered, and quite a few new questions have arisen.

Has Kim Jong Il’s legitimacy become more independent of his father than it used to be? Will Kim Jong Un succeed Kim Jong Il, or will he succeed Kim Il Sung? Is Kim Jong Il’s sister Kim Kyong Hui, who has been promoted to the rank of general and is part of the party leadership, supposed to support her nephew, or is this part of a strategy to more broadly enhance the family’s power? Will her husband Jang Song Thaek share the caretaking job with his wife? Are there any other members of the extended Kim family on the team?

To read Frank’s full article, written for 38North, please follow this link: Hu Jintao, Deng Xiaoping or Another Mao Zedong? Power Restructuring in North Korea.

Here some excerpts:

The Party meeting provided final proof of what has often been doubted since Kim Jong Il took over as leader of North Korea after 1994. All the other things one might say about him notwithstanding, Kim Il Sung undisputedly was an able politician. He did not choose his eldest son Kim Jong Il as his successor by chance. Despite his health problems, Kim Jong Il is (still) able to play the power game. He paved the way for a new leadership without turning himself into a lame duck. He did so by not leaving any important posts to somebody else—although, at the same time, he did not monopolize those positions. He distributed power among a core group of family members and his father’s loyalists, while also ensuring that none of them can be certain to be significantly higher-ranking than any of their colleagues. As in juche, where in the end everything depends on the judgment of the leader, power in North Korea remains Kim’s sole domain. At the same time, he has done what any good CEO does: delegate authority to avoid energy-consuming micro-management of each and every aspect of his job.

The most important decision regarding human resources has been the introduction of Kim Jong Un as a member of the top leadership of the Party and of the military. He will now have to quickly develop a record (at least on paper) of spectacular achievements, so that he can be quickly presented to the people as the most logical and capable candidate for the next leadership post. Since Kim Jong Un was appointed with a clear reference to the military, Kim Jong Il appears to be following the same strategy his father did after 1980. At that time, North Korea analysts noticed that the late O Jin U, the top military official, was always standing close to Kim Jong Il. It would now be logical to expect that like his father before him, Kim Jong Un will be responsible for the promotion of top military officers, thereby ensuring their loyalty.

In terms of strategic decisions, its seems that the succession from Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Un will be different from the last changing of the guard in 1994. As early as 2008, it seemed likely that the role of the Party would be strengthened substantially. The restoration of the WPK’s formal power organs and the many biographical details that were provided on the top leadership circle, including the group photo, indicate that the new leader will not be as autocratic as his predecessors. The new leadership will have more faces; we could observe something similar a few months ago in the case of the National Defense Commission. This is the reflection of a trend, not a spontaneous event.

What seems most notable is the renewed emphasis on Kim Il Sung as the sole source of legitimacy in North Korea. Kim Jong Il is not going to replace him, which would have been a precondition for the perpetuation of the current system of leadership. Therefore, in a sense, Kim Jong Un and all those who come after him will be, like Kim Jong Il, successors of Kim Il Sung.

Concerning the process of power transfer, as expected, a multi-stage approach is unfolding. At least one more stage will be needed. Chances are good that this will take place at the Seventh Party Congress, whose date is as of yet unannounced. 2012 would be a good time considering the health of Kim Jong Il and that year’s auspicious meaning—the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birthday. As stated above, Kim Il Sung was a capable politician. He was clearly aware of the fact that sooner or later, his son would face the succession issue. It would be a great surprise if he hadn’t talked about this with him and jointly developed a rough plan as to how create a sustainable model of power succession. The two problems Kim Il Sung could not consider, simply for technical reasons, were who exactly would show the necessary capabilities to become the next successor, and how much time Kim Jong Il would have to oversee and guide that process.

The year 2008 indeed marked a watershed when, because of his illness, Kim Jong Il realized the need for a quick solution. The last thing an autocrat wants is to create the impression of being forced to act, and of time running out. So he used the already fixed year 2012 not only as the year of the celebration of his father’s 100th birthday, but also as the year when great changes will happen and the gate to becoming a Strong and Prosperous Great Country will be opened. From this perspective, I would argue that Kim Jong Il is indeed fighting a “speed battle,” but in the form of compressing a process that was planned long ago and supposed to last longer, rather than creating such a process from scratch and hastily.

All Eyes on Pyongyang

[The following article by CanKor Brain Trust member Jeremy Paltiel, appeared in the CanKor Report #329 and was published on CanKor’s UnCommon Sense on 10 October 2010. – Miranda]

An undated family photo of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il (front L), his youngest son Kim Jong-Un (front R), his fourth wife Kim Ok (second row L), his sister Kim Kyong-hui (second row middle) and her husband Jang Song-Thaek (second row R). (Photo: Newsc)

The succession is the big issue. But Kim Jong Un is not the whole story of the succession. The promotion of KJIls sister Kim Kyong Hui to General, the promotion of KJIIs best friend Choe Ryong Hae and the elevation of vice-Marshal Ri Yong Ho are equally significant for the short and medium term. We should note that in the context of a supposed Songjun “Army First” policy three non-military types Kim Jong Un, Kim Kyong Hui and Jang Song Taek have senior positions on the military commission. The promotion of Ri to marshal is clearly aimed at stifling any bitterness this must provoke. If you know anything about career military people, whether it be General McChrystal or Ri Yong Ho, they chafe at civilians who presume to know better about military affairs. What Kim JII has engineered is a family takeover of the military commission in order to consolidate his sons succession. I am not convinced it will work.

At the same time the signs of moderation are both significant and logical. The DPRK needs a period of relaxed tensions for the succession to work. KJII must appear to appease the Chinese anxiety for stability and to do that he must also improve relations with the South and with the US. Moreover, in order to foist his sons succession on a restive military he must ensure that they are not called in to deal with an emergency, hence to relax tensions helps. This is analogous to the coincident improvement of Chinas relations with the US in the early 1970s coinciding with the demise of Marshal Lin Biao.

The Chinese are eyeing this warily. They do not like the Kim family shop, but the PLA is confident in is relationship with their comrades in arms in the KPA. Hence these arrangements are delicate, and Beijing is counting on KJII to deliver détente if he wants Chinese support.

None of this changes my opinion about the fragility of the régime. Can it deliver détente and opening without imploding? We know already that after the failed currency reform the weary and harried North Korean populace is cynical and apprehensive. What does the perpetuation of the Kim Il Sung bloodline do for them? They will not risk their lives by raising their voices, but given even half a chance, they will vote with their feet. The KPA will ultimately have to choose at whom to point their guns.

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