Conflicting Messages: Whipping Out The Crystal Ball

When it comes to message control, our current Prime Minister’s office has nothing compared to the likes of Pyongyang. The rulers of the DPRK have for the last seventy years been quite fastidious when it has come to shaping the regime’s official message. After all, when you enjoy the benefits of controlling both the media and your diplomats abroad, the only thing you really have to worry about are the folks who decide to leave your tightly-controlled society.

It’s surprising that despite some extreme shocks to the system, including the famine and the death of the only leader the country had ever known in 1994, the regime’s grip did not grow any “looser.” Perhaps the areas around the country’s northern provinces have become a little more porous after the famine, but despite the relative free flow of knowledge that appears to be growing in the borderlands between China, the number of people (successfully) fleeing the country has dwindled, especially after the recent power succession.

This makes the conflicting messages coming out of the country quite surprising. Read the rest of this entry »

Kim Jong Un: I Am NOT My Father

I would like to think that Kim Jong Un listened to my advice and hired a Don Draper type to sex up the regime’s image

abroad. Yes, such visions of grandeur. Bringing us back to reality, however, the DPRK has certainly gone to some great lengths to ameliorate its image abroad, to the point that some have described it as an “extreme makeover.” It all perhaps began with Kim Jong Un complaining about the general disrepair of amusement parks (“pathetic” is supposedly the word used). One has to wonder in opaque North Korea whether Kim was referring to simply the amusement park itself, or really criticizing the way that his father ran the country.

Meet the new boss

Then we have Kim the 3rd walking around accompanied by a mystery woman who we later find out he has married – perhaps even against his father’s wishes. Even if this allegation of filial impiety is not true, Kim Jong Il never trotted out his women in public.

The implication of this rather public announcement is enormous: again, Kim Jong Un is not his father! Then we have a well publicized concert involving trademark infringement of the Mickey Mouse variety and mini-skirts that would have shocked O Jin U if he were still around. We receive word of things like prisoner amnesties. Finally, Ri Yong Ho is sacked. The official cause is illness; the word on the street is power struggle, including fanciful notions of firefights in the inner sanctums of Pyongyang. Ri Yong Ho was supposedly one of the capos in the Kim Jong Il regime. Getting rid of someone like him again is clear signal that a new boss has rolled into town.

At the end of the day, this branding exercise seems a clear play to contrast Kim Jong Un from Kim Jong Il. Perhaps the rumours that Kim Jong Un (and Jang Song Thaek behind him) really want to open the country up. The evidence so far, doesn’t suggest that yet: the border hasn’t been this controlled since the 2008 Olympics and the kwan-li-so system still exists. What isclear is that the regime has, six months after his death, buried Kim Jong Il, set up his statue right beside Kim the 1st, and has all but announced that his era is over. Read the rest of this entry »

North Korean power shuffle no surprise, by Gwynne Dyer

[Although the title highlights the recent dismissal of KPA chief Vice-marshal Ri Yong Ho, this opinion piece by Canadian columnist Gwynne Dyer compares Kim Jong Un’s hereditary accession to leadership in the DPRK to the likely scenario of another hereditary leader becoming the next president of South Korea. Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries. –CanKor]

What has been happening in North Korea recently is straight out of the Hereditary Dictatorship for Dummies handbook. Kim Jong-un, the pudgy young heir to the leadership of one of the world’s last Communist states, is removing powerful people who were loyal to his father and replacing them with men (it’s always men) who owe their advancement only to him.

Vice-Marshal Ri Yong-ho, the chief of the North Korean army until late last week, was not disloyal to the new boss. On the contrary, Ri’s support was vital in ensuring a smooth transition after the death of Kim Jong-Il, the old boss, and he gave it unstintingly. But in the end the vice-marshal didn’t owe everything to Kim Jong-un, so he had to go.

In his place, Kim Jong-un has promoted a man nobody had ever heard of before. His name is Hyon Yong-chol, but you don’t have to remember it unless you really want to. The point is that Hyon will have annoyed a lot of other generals in the army because he has been promoted over their heads, and so he is absolutely dependent on the good will of the young master. Read the rest of this entry »

Is North Korea Ready for a U-Turn? by Chung Min Lee

[Prof. Chung Min Lee is dean of the Graduate School of International Studies at Yonsei University in Seoul. In this article written for the Wall Street Journal, 12 March 2012, he examines a proposal made by North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho during a closed-door “Track 2” seminar held in New York last Saturday, 10 March 2012. According to Mr. Lee, the biggest obstacles to any reform intended by fledgling DPRK leader Kim Jong Un are not Washington and Seoul, but his own party apparatchiks. –CanKor]

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is helped through a crush of reporters, Thursday, 8 March 2012 in New York. Kissinger attended a conference with a DPRK delegation on Peace and Cooperation in Northeast Asia, hosted by Syracuse University. (Photo by Mary Altaffer, Associated Press)

At the first track-two dialogue between U.S. and North Korean officials since Kim Jong Eun’s rise to power, Pyongyang hinted that a breakthrough in relations might be possible. Meeting in New York City last week, both sides discussed building trust in order to rethink geopolitics on the Korean Peninsula in the post-Kim Jong Il era.

A senior North Korean official stated that “unlike the previous generation, the new leadership [of North Korea] wants peace and will not fight with the United States.” Another North Korean official stated that “the recent agreement in Beijing with regard to plutonium cessation is irreversible” and that “we will take consistent steps to ensure its success. He added that the North’s plutonium program “97% has been disabled and if we reverse this, it would be a game changer. As long as both parties abide by the agreement, one can be assured that [plutonium] production is irreversible.” Read the rest of this entry »

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