Did Kim Jong Un’s uncle prepare his first state visit to China?

[The following two news items strike us as being related. First a high-level visit to China by the assumed power behind the throne, Kim Jong Un’s uncle Jang Song Thaek. The first article is by Didi Tang for The Associated Press, published 17 August 2012. The second is the widely expected but unconfirmed request for the first external state visit and first official visit to China by Kim Jong Un, in his capacity as DPRK leader. The Reuters article appeared in guardian.co.uk on 24 August 2012. –CanKor]

Wen Jiabao, right, meets Jang Song-thaek, uncle of North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong-un, on Aug. 17. (Photo/Xinhua)

Senior North Korean holds talks with China’s leaders in sign allies’ relations back on track

Associated Press, BEIJING, China – The powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met both China’s president and premier on Friday in a sign that relations between the two countries are back on track after Kim irked Beijing with a rocket launch soon after taking power.

State media have said the six-day visit to China by Jang Song Thaek, the chief of the central administrative department of the Workers’ Party of Korea, is a possible prelude to a visit by Kim himself. China remains North Korea’s most important ally.

The top-level meetings came after Beijing earlier this week agreed to help Pyongyang revamp two trade zones near the Chinese border. Read the rest of this entry »

North Korea pushes bold agrarian reform program

[The following article appeared 0n the website of the Japanese news agency The Asahi Shimbun, dated 2 August 2012. It was compiled from reports by Koichiro Ishida in Shenyang, China, and Tetsuya Hakoda in Seoul. –CanKor]

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un tours the Ryugyong Health Complex in Pyongyang that is nearing completion. (Photo by KCNA)

To fend off starvation, North Korea will introduce bold agrarian reforms that will allow farmers to dispose of part of their harvests as they see fit.The initiative was authorized by new leader Kim Jong Un, North Korean government and military sources said.The planned reforms, the first in roughly 10 years, are intended to enhance yields and help mitigate chronic food shortages that plague the country.

The nation’s ability to feed itself has fallen short by about 1 million tons a year. But this year, a major drought has exacerbated the problem.

Under North Korea’s system of collective labor in farming villages, harvests are collected by the state and redistributed to households according to their size.

The new system will allow farmers to do what they want with their harvests after they have handed over statutory amounts to the state. This means they can consume the produce or sell it in markets, the sources said. Read the rest of this entry »

Party Time in Pyongyang, by Aidan Foster-Carter

[From time to time CanKor alerts readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is authored by long-time CanKor friend and contributor Aiden Foster-Carter. Please follow our link to the current article on the 38North site. –CanKor]

As I write this article, April is already more than half over. In North Korea, the party is over, bar the shouting. But in Pyongyang, the shouting never really stops, or not for long anyway.

Kim Jong Un waves to the masses during the military parade commemorating Kim Il Sung’s centenary birthday. (Photo: AP)

True, this event-packed month is not quite done yet. The April 28 Spring Friendship Art Festival still has a few days to run, bringing to the good people of Pyongyang such cultural delights as the Trumpet Ensemble of Belarus. Not forgetting the song and dance troupe of the General Political Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. (Catchy name!)

Lest you imagine this has anything to do with art, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) was commendably candid. Announcing the festival on March 29, KCNA hailed the “over 50 art troupes from 20 odd countries… Their performances will be devoted to praising President Kim Il Sung, revered as the sun of Juche by the world progressives.” That surely can’t apply to the Festival’s most unlikely performers: the Sons of Jubal, a 150-strong male chorus who are all Baptist music ministers from Georgia (the US state, not the country). So much for aesthetics.

One important date yet to come is April 25. That’s Army Day, which this year marks the 80th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army (KPA). Like much in the DPRK’s official history, this is fiction. The real KPA wasn’t formed until 1948, on February 8. That was the date they celebrated until 1978, when it got pushed back to mark instead the supposed founding of Kim Il Sung’s tiny guerrilla band in 1932. In North Korea, after all, myth rules.

Just in case the rumors are right and the DPRK is contemplating a nuclear test to compensate for the failed rocket launch on April 13, then April 25 might be deemed an appropriate date for it. But this article lays off the rocketry, amply covered by 38 North of late, to look instead at the politics which unfolded in Pyongyang last week. What happened, and what have we learned? Read the rest of this entry »

The Paint Dries By James Church

[From time to time CanKor alerts readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is by James Church, the nom de plume of the “Inspector O” novels and a former intelligence officer with plenty of DPRK experience. Please follow our link to the current article on the 38North site. –CanKor]

There is a regular posse of US policymakers and pundits who, when it comes to dealing with North Korea, like to say that Washington should not “buy the same horse twice.” Sooner or later, when something goes wrong—and it usually does—they end up galloping off on their own steeds—the Three Horses of the Apocalypse: Hysteria, Hyperbole, and Hyperventilation. However, in what seems to be a short reprieve, this may be a good moment to take a deep analytical breath before things start going to hell again, which they inevitably will, and take a look around.

As a general rule, following an unremarkable leadership transition is pretty much the same as watching paint dry on a summer afternoon. So far, to the chagrin and surprise of a number of observers who apparently expected a different outcome, the paint on the North Korean succession looks fine. Last week, the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) held another party conference, and with it, the new regime under Kim Jong Un (now KWP First Secretary and First Chairman of the National Defense Commission) has been fleshed out. As of April 15, we have what looks to be the new leadership ranking order. Alas, nothing on the personnel front really catches the eye. The trends set in place (and the decisions foreordained) by Kim Jong Il remain on track. The most one can say is that the KWP leadership structure, after a hiatus of nearly 18 years, appears to be back at full complement. Read the rest of this entry »

DPRK Ambassador thanks CanKor

[Ambassador Sin Son Ho, the DPRK ambassador to Canada and Permanent Representative to the United Nations headquarters in New York, expressed his “deepest thanks” to CanKor Editor-in-Chief Erich Weingartner for the message of condolence on the death of DPRK leader Kim Jong Il. A PDF file of the signed letter on UN Mission letterhead can be found here. The text of the letter is as follows. –CanKor]

CanKor Editor Erich Weingartner with DPRK Ambassador Sin Son Ho.

New York, 12 January 2012

Dear Mr. Erich Weingartner,

I would like to express my deepest thanks to you for your message of condolences on 19 December 2012 on the sudden passing of His Excellency KIM JONG IL, General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission and the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army.

Your message of condolences in sharing the sorrow with us represents a great support and inspiration to our people, who have turned their grief over the loss of their leader into courage and strength and are fully resolved to surely build a socialist prosperous and powerful country, upholding the behest of great leader KIM JONG IL and single-mindedly unite around His Excellency KIM JONG UN, Supreme Leader of the Party, State and Military of DPRK.

Best regards,

Sin Son Ho


Permanent Representative

DPRK Mourns Death of “Dear Leader”

Death of Kim Jong Il: Official DPRK Announcement

Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un (Reuters)

[Official statement as it appeared on the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), 19 December 2011 — CanKor]

The Central Committee and the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the National Defence Commission of the DPRK, the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and the Cabinet of the DPRK on Saturday announced the following notice to all party members, servicepersons and people:

The Central Committee and the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the National Defence Commission of the DPRK, the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and the Cabinet of the DPRK notify with bitterest grief to all the party members, servicepersons and people of the DPRK that Kim Jong Il, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, chairman of the National Defence Commission of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, passed away of a sudden illness at 08: 30 on December 17, Juche 100 (2011) on his way to field guidance.

He dedicated all his life to the inheritance and accomplishment of the revolutionary cause of Juche and energetically worked day and night for the prosperity of the socialist homeland, happiness of people, reunification of the country and global independence. He passed away too suddenly to our profound regret. Read the rest of this entry »

Food Shortage an International Issue — Food Conservation Stressed in DPRK

Wonsan Kindergarten (photo courtesy of EPD)

The Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) in Seoul summarized the North Korean government’s explanation about current food shortages in their series of NK Briefs (No. 11-03-09) as follows:

The Rodong Sinmun, the official mouthpiece of the Korean Workers’ Party (of North Korea), recently reported on skyrocketing food prices around the world, describing the phenomenon as a global crisis. The newspaper encouraged North Koreans to do their part to deal with the current food crisis by being self-reliant and by practicing conservation.

By highlighting the fact that the food crisis is worldwide, the newspaper simply reported the current food shortage situation in North Korea as part of the global phenomenon.

In the government-run propaganda website “Uriminzokkiri,” an article titled, “World Food Crisis and Its Solution” was published on March 7, 2011. The article claimed, “Millions of people around the world are starving from soaring food prices and decline in world grain production and supply.” It also added, “Huge losses are expected this year with unusual extreme weather conditions and natural disasters affecting the major grain producing countries.” 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.

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