Kim Jong-Il's son, Kim Jong-un has been groomed to succeed his father, however he's yet to win full support from the military says academic, Dr Bronwen Dalton.
TO ENTER North Korea is to warp into a new reality. I have done it twice, once on the antique train from the Chinese border, once even more bizarrely in the company of Alexander Downer aboard a luxury government jet.
Whether swaying on ill-maintained tracks through a countryside where stunted people forage for food, or flying into a darkened landmass where the dim runway lights end at an illuminated portrait of regime founder Kim Il-sung, it soon becomes apparent that normal incentives don’t apply.
North Korea has a regime set up by a Soviet-backed communist guerilla leader fighting against the imperial Japanese occupation. Kim ended up by creating a replica of the Japanese imperial system in Stalinist camouflage, with him as the successor.
Without the 2500-year imperial lineage of Japan, it has been a hard act to follow. Terror in the form of a gulag with 200,000 inmates, Orwellian surveillance, and classification of the population into 51 classes of revolutionary zeal has been required.
Succession is starting to follow a pattern. The sons are spoilt rotten. Then they have to blood themselves.
Kim Jong-il had some education in East Germany, but became noted for his sybaritic tastes. He imported foreign chefs, French wine and brandy, and statuesque blondes. He dabbled in cinema, and had a leading South Korean director and his actress wife kidnapped to help.
On being designated ‘‘Dear Leader’’ and successor in the early 1980s, though, the younger Kim understood that ruthlessness and brinkmanship were the qualities needed to impress the people that ultimately counted, the generals running the 1.1 million-strong Korean People’s Army.
When his father died in 1994, amid a collapsing economy from the loss of Soviet support and natural disasters, Kim and the military put regime survival above all else. The army got fed, and the covert nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs funded. Up to 2 million civilians or 10 per cent of the population starved to death.
The outside world counts for even less. Kim personally ran the shadowy Room 39 of the Korean Workers Party, said to supervise the counterfeiting of US currency and trafficking of drugs around Asia. Australia seems to have been a target when the Tuvalu-flagged North Korean owned and crewed ship Pong Su landed 150 kilograms of heroin for a Malaysian syndicate in Victoria.
Kim always upped the ante. When George W. Bush listed North Korea in the ‘‘axis of evil’’ and declared his ‘‘visceral hatred’’ of the ‘‘pygmy’’ Kim, the Dear Leader responded by withdrawing his country from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, testing missiles near Japan, and setting off two nuclear tests.
On-off negotiations at the Six-Party Talks in Beijing frustrated US officials, who felt they were being asked to ‘‘buy the same horse twice’’.
The third Kim seems a chip off the old block. China has long been trying to persuade Pyongyang to follow its market reforms. Kim Jong-il opened up pavement trading in 2002 but periodically clamped down when it became too successful.
Last year Kim Jong-un seems to have been behind a sudden revaluation of the currency that made most savings and capital in the free market worthless. A senior official was shot to take the blame.
Kim Jong-un’s elevation as heir was followed by two military incidents near the disputed sea border in the Yellow Sea last year, the sinking of the South Korean navy corvette Cheonan in March and the shelling of a small fishing community in November.
Without his father’s encouragement, analysts speculate whether this blooding of Kim Jong-un will continue.
He will be mentored by KPA generals on one side and his father’s brother-in-law, Jang Song-taek, who last year was appointed vice-chairman of the powerful National Defence Commission, the effective No.2 post in North Korea. Jang and Kim’s only sister, Kim Kyong-hui, will be regents in the Kim dynasty.
North Korea will now go into a paroxysm of grief that may continue until the 100th birth anniversary of Kim Il-sung in April. Everyone will be watching sideways to see who might emerge as North Korea’s Khrushchev or Gorbachev. The KPA will have its work cut out watching both the South Korean frontier and trying to stop a mass breakout into China.
So far we have never seen an Asian communist regime fall, no matter how much the people suffer or leaders purge each other. It may still be a while.