Kim Jong-Il’s death: What’s next for North Korea?
North Korean lost their dear leader Kim Jong il after suffering a stroke, even though speculation on his health and even death circulated already a year ago.
As it happened after his father’s death, the eternal president Kim Il Sung, North Koreans are mourning with desperation this loss, with funerals planned for Wednesday 28th December.
Nort Korea is often described as the last communist state, a totalitarian Stalinist world; in fact North Korea is a sort a communist absolutistic state, autarchic, with a hereditary dynasty legitimated by soprannatural powers.
In this isolated country, where the Marxist-Leninist ideology has been replaced by the juche of Kim il Sung, has been assured a full control of the masses and their minds, guaranteeing the regime survival where others have failed. Even the juche have been adapted over the years, with the inclusion of the songun as a principle (military first), from many seen as a way to ensure the powerful support of the army to the leadership, at the expenses of the masses but mainly of the Workers Party.
Kim Jong-il was one of the world’s most reclusive and enigmatic leaders, presiding over a secretive and internationally isolated country.
He was criticised for flagrant human rights abuses and for threatening the stability of the region by pursuing a nuclear weapons programme and testing long-range missiles.
When he assumed power after the death of his father, Kim Il-sung, in 1994, very little was known about Kim Jong-Il. He had seldom been seen in public. He was said to have personally ordered the shooting down of a South Korean airliner in 1987. The South Korean media portrayed him as a vain man, a playboy with a bouffant hairstyle and sporting platform shoes in order to appear taller. Anecdotal evidence suggests he was not as stupid as his southern neighbours made out, though his over-fondness for food and drink was probably true. Those who met him say he was well-informed and he was said to have followed assiduously international events. Some saw him as a clever manipulator, willing to take risks to underpin his regime. Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that Kim Jong-Il was “very much on top of his brief”.
His image in North Korea was one of a hero in the typical manner of the dictator’s cult of personality. Official North Korean accounts say he was born in a log cabin and the event was reportedly marked by a double rainbow and a bright star in the sky. They say he wrote six operas in two years and designed one of Pyongyang’s most famous landmarks. In fact, according to outside experts, Mr Kim was born near the Russian city of Khabarovsk where his guerrilla father was receiving Soviet military support.
Subsequently, the young Kim spent the Korean War in China. Like most of North Korea’s elite, he graduated from Kim Il-sung University. In 1975, he acquired the title Dear Leader and five years later joined the Central Committee of the Korean Workers Party and was given special responsibility for art and culture. In 1978, he ordered the abduction of a South Korean film director, Shin Sang-ok and his actress wife Choi Eun-hee. They were held separately for five years before being reunited at a party banquet.
They said afterwards that Mr Kim had apologised for the kidnappings and asked them to make movies for him. They completed seven before escaping to the West in 1986.
Kim Jong-Il’s love of the cinema bordered on the obsessive. He is said to have collected a library of 20,000 Hollywood movies and to have even written a book on the cinema. Elizabeth Taylor was believed to have been his pin-up.
He is also believed to have visited the state film company hundreds of times and produced a patriotic 100-part serial on North Korean history.
In 1991, he was elected supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army. Analysts believe he was given the position to counter potential resistance to an eventual succession.
North Korea’s rigid centrally-controlled economy had slipped into an ever-deepening economic crisis exacerbated by the collapse of the country’s main trading partner, the Soviet Union.Trade dried up and the regime even ran out of fuel for factories and offices. Natural disasters led to crop failures and hundreds of thousands are believed to have died. Potential unrest was quashed by the authorities.
This grave state of affairs continued after Kim succeeded his father on his death in 1994. However, Kim Jong-Il did relieve the crisis somewhat by appealing for international assistance, particularly from China.
He also visited China several times, and was known to be interested in how communist China had adapted its socialist principles to a market economy. After visiting Beijing and Shanghai in 2000 and 2001, North Korea began experimenting, on a small scale, with private entrepreneurship.
He also moved some way to improving relations with South Korea. In June 2000, he met the South’s leader, Kim Dae-Jung, the first inter-Korean summit since the Korean War in 1953 which divided the nation. The summit’s main achievement was to increase links between the states, including allowing the reunion of families separated by the Korean War. More than a million Koreans were affected in this way.
In August 2008 a report appeared in a Japanese news magazine claiming that Kim Jong-Il had died in 2003 and that his supposed public appearances had, in fact, been undertaken by body doubles. A month later US intelligence sources claimed Kim had suffered a stroke, following reports that he had failed to appear at a military parade to mark the country’s 60th anniversary. He made a dramatic appearance in August 2009 when former US President, Bill Clinton, flew to North Korea to secure the release of two American journalists, who had been arrested after allegedly illegally entering North Korea in March. After meeting Mr Clinton it was reported that Kim Jong-Il had agreed to pardon the two journalists and they returned to the United States.
Kim Jong-Il’s devoted commitment to his father’s particular Marxist-Leninist vision was fundamental. His insistence on maintaining the North’s nuclear weapons programme in the face of international criticism, and the development and testing of long-range missiles capable of hitting American cities ensured that his country remained isolated. His death at the age of 69 on 17 December 2011 was announced on state television.
Kim Jong-un is the youngest son of Kim Jong-il and his late third wife Ko Yong-hui.
Very little is known about the man himself. His mother was thought to be Kim Jong-il’s favourite wife, and she clearly doted on her son, reportedly calling him the “Morning Star King”.
Born in 1983 or early 1984, was initially not thought to be in the frame to take up his father’s post. Instead, analysts focused their attention on his half-brother Kim Jong-nam and older full brother Kim Jong-chol.
The death of Ko Yong-hui in 2004, reportedly from breast cancer, appeared to put the younger Kim firmly behind his half-brother in the leadership stakes.
Kim Jong-nam’s deportation from Japan in May 2001, and middle brother Kim Jong-chol’s apparent “unmanliness” subsequently improved his chances.
However, speculation that he was being groomed to succeed his father started in January 2009, after a report from South Korea’s Yonhap news agency suggested that Kim Jong-il named him as heir.
North Korea watchers also took his reported appointment to the powerful National Defence Commission as a possible signal that he was being moved into a leadership position. The defence commission is North Korea’s most important government body, and Kim Jong-il ruled the country in his capacity as the commission’s chairman.
State media hailed Kim Jong-un as “supreme commander” of the country’s powerful armed forces for the first time.
The ruling party newspaper Rodong Shinmun also called on Kim Jong-un to lead North Korea to “eternal victory”.
State media had been calling Mr Kim “the great successor” after the death of his father Kim Jong-il on Monday.
“We declare from our hearts … we will complete the task of songun (military-first) revolution under comrade Kim Jong-un”, the paper said in an editorial.
There have already been poems and a song, Footsteps, composed, to promote the young man’s personality cult as a leader. Some 10 million portraits are being distributed by the authorities to hang alongside those of his father and grandfather, according to reports.
At the same time, there has also been speculation that the man behind Kim Jong- un is Chang Song-taek, the husband of Kim Jong-il’s sister and director of the administrative department of the North Korean Workers Party. Some analysts believe he is acting as a “regent” to Kim Jong-un until he is ready to rule on his own.
Swiss-educated like his brothers, Kim Jong-un avoided Western influences, returning home when not in school and dining out with the North Korean ambassador.
Since his return to Pyongyang, he is known to have attended the Kim Il-sung Military University. But little has been made public about his character.
In August 2010 Kim Jong-il visited China. One South Korean TV station cited a South Korean official as saying Kim Jong-un had accompanied his father on the trip.
Kim Jong-un shares some of his late father’s health problems, and is reported already to have diabetes and heart disease due to a lack of exercise. He is reported to be a fan of NBA basketball.
The issues behind this succession
The death of Kim Jong-il raises concerns in the international diplomacy, especially for the following:
-Succession and stability
-Loyalty of armed forces, party and family to Kim
At the death of Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il was already the heir, named in 1980, and spent the rest of the time in his father’s shadow growing support and training, as well achieving highest rank in the party, army and political structure. When he took power in 1994, was also unknown to many but the long time spent behind his father left no doubt that the powerful army and party were ready to be loyal.
However, he was given a country impoverished and without the traditional financial support from USSR, so when the famine struck and economy collapsed he had to turn the juche in a politic were to the army was devolved much of the revenue and attention. Transferring the revolutionary spirit from the masses and party to the army, transformed the North Korean army is the real focal point for anyone like Kim Jong-un wants to succeed as a leader.
This prominent role of the army has been clearly demonstrated by the missile and nuclear tests and an aggressive stance towards South Korea that culminated with the tragic incidents of the Cheonag and Yeonpyeong Island.
Kim Jon- un appear to be young and inexpert and not ready to guide this difficult country, this is why many believed although he has been named as successor, in reality he is still in training under the protective wing of King Jong-il brother in law, Chang Song-Taek, a senior official in the party and army.
The other main apprehension for diplomacies focuses the relations with South Korea especially after the latest incidents.
Relations between the two Koreas remain fraught following an exchange of artillery fire in November 2010 across the disputed western maritime border that left four South Koreans dead. It was one of the most serious incidents between the two nations since the Korean War ended and came just months after the sinking of a South Korean warship, the Cheonan.
South Korea accused North Korean troops firing artillery towards Yeonpyeong Island, a small outpost very close to the disputed Yellow Sea border, on 23 November 2010. Two soldiers and two civilians were killed and several other people injured. Numerous buildings were destroyed. South Korea returned fire – there is no information on whether casualties were sustained on the North Korean side.
It is not clear what provoked the incident, although the disputed border area has been the scene of numerous clashes in the past. North Korea had protested earlier in the day about South Korean military exercises – which involved firing into the sea – being held near the island.
The other serious incident happened on the evening of 26 March 2010, when the Cheonan, a South Korean warship, was sailing off Baengnyeong Island close to the disputed maritime border was split it in two by an explosion. Fifty-eight sailors managed to escape but 46 were killed.
Investigators concluded that what sank the ship was a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine. North Korea denies any role in the incident. It has rejected the investigators’ findings and demanded it be allowed to conduct its own probe – something which Seoul has ruled out.
This current situation of incomplete succession could trigger different scenarios, but no one can say for sure what will be the outcome, because at the end one thing is sure with North Korea, the uncertainty and vagueness will clear only at the next escalating move of this unpredictable last dinosaur.
Kim Jong-un takes power, but with the army and his uncle in law as protector, the clear objective is to ensure the status quo, challenges South Korea and leave open the door for negotiation. In this case we should expect some new missile tests or nuclear announcement as propaganda aimed to strengthen into the masses the figure of Jong-un and abroad to remind that nothing has changed.
King Jong-un takes power but is not only shadowed, all political decisions are in the hands of the powerful military elite. This unbalancing power could trigger a feud between the army, party officials and Kim’s family, and could create a more aggressive behaviour in the army with consequences not certain.
Kim Jong-un is unable to take power because of the struggle between the army and the party, leaving the country without a guide and in the brink of a split, not only ideologically. A regime falling could trigger the collapse of the communist state and subsequent humanitarian crisis with exodus of North Koreans to neighbours China and South Korea. At the same time the army could resort to attack the South to unbalance the party.
Feud between Kim Jong-Il’s sons and brothers along with allies in the party and army. This could result in a void of power that could only be finished with the intervention of the army in a military coup style USSR, or a party coup able to eviscerate the Kim family and their allies in the army taking control of the transition.
The Workers Party excludes Kim Jong-un and his family in order to take control of the country and start reforms like the one assisted in China.