Predictions on Kim Jong-un era
'Years 2015-2020 crucial to third-generation leader'
By Do Je-hae
The launch of Kim Jong-un’s rule in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been a major theme in publishing in recent months, with many scholars, experts and journalists writing about it.
Even the untested leader’s older brother Kim Jong-nam’s views on the future course of the Communist state after the death of the late leader Kim Jong-il was published in a Japanese book.
Former diplomat Kim Myong-bai has joined the rush to publish predictions on North Korea’s prospects in coming years, with his latest book “Will Spring Come to ‘Juche’ Ideology?”
The author graduated from Seoul National University (Bachelor of Laws) and Columbia University (Master of International Affairs). He formerly served as ambassador to Sri Lanka and Brazil and currently lectures at Hoseo University on international and inter-Korean affairs.
The unique aspect of this book is that it contains stories and experiences involving North Koreans and relevant foreign experts that could only have been accessed through Kim’s privileged position in the diplomatic service.
When serving at the Korean Embassy in Mosow in the mid 1990s, Kim had opportunities to work with Russian diplomats and officials that had studied and worked extensively in Pyongyang. Some of them had actually met Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in person.
“A Russian counselor that I met had studied at Kim Il-Sung University and spoke flawless Korean. His ambassador to Pyongyang met Kim Il-sung several times and the counselor accompanied him. During these meetings Kim Jong-il was also present,” the author wrote.
“The counselor said that Kim Jong-il was extremely respectful of his father and listened intently and made notes. Kim Jong-il showed humility by saying that he was ‘too ignorant and lacking sufficient capacity to serve my father.’”
There are also interesting stories about how Kim Il-sung’s devout Christian family background influenced the juche ideology and on Kim Jong-il’s love for and expertise in movies and his particular affection for his younger sister Kim Kyong-hui. The writer also shares views on North Korean defectors he met during his service, some of who had held high posts in the military.
As foreign service officers of a divided nation, Korean diplomats have an undeniable mission. One of the key diplomatic tasks of the foreign ministry is “security diplomacy” for maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula thorough dialogue with not just North Korea, but with China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
To that end, the foreign ministry runs the Office of Korean Peninsula Peace andSecurity Affairs, which consists of North Korean Nuclear Affairs and the KoreanPeninsula Peace Regime Bureaus.
Despite such active involvement, the general public does not readily associate inter-Korean affairs with the foreign ministry.
One of the reasons has been that Korean diplomats have not been forthcoming about sharing their work with the public through media or publications. Sadly for students, historians and experts in international relations, it has been hard to find books authored by diplomats on their experiences outside Korea.
Kim, on the other hand, connects readers with North Korea through his time in Russia and the United States as well as his tenure as director-general of the Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau and a presidential secretary at Cheong Wa Dae.
“I am not a scholar who has devoted a career to studying North Korea. As such, this is not an academic publication, but an analysis on North Korea’s situation based on diplomatic experiences,” Kim wrote in the introduction of the 325-page book.
The first part of the book contains Kim’s vivid accounts of security diplomacy and the second part consists of texts that were used as a base for his lectures at Hoseo University.
It will be particularly useful for those who are not quite familiar with the “juche” (self-reliance) ideology of DPRK founder and Eternal President Kim Il-sung. It contains easy explanations about the theories of juche and the pivotal role it has played in shaping North Korea.
North Korea recently drew international condemnation again after unsuccessfully attempting to launch a Kwangmyongsong 3 satellite on an Unha-3 rocket. Watching news footages from the North’s state broadcaster, a South Korean viewer is likely to be alarmed by the high level of hostility displayed by Pyongyang toward Seoul on a daily basis.
One will repeatedly hear derogatory terms like “Lee Myung-bak’s group of traitors in conspiracy,” referring to the President Lee’s administration.
Will such hostile actions continue, even with leadership changes in the two Koreas?
North Korea has just renewed its leadership, with late leader Kim Jong-il’s young son Jong-un taking helm of the military, party and government. At the end of the year, the South will elect a new President, who will draw up new North Korea policies.
Visible changes in North Korea are unlikely in the near future.
In a carefully choreographed event to celebrate the centenary of the regime founder’s birth this week, the third-generation Kim pledged to pursue his grandfather’s juche ideology by sticking to his father’s “songun” (military-first) policy.
The author is one of the North Korea experts, including Korea Times columnist Andrei Lankov, that thinks a generational shift is likely to lead to some changes in one of the world’s most repressive regimes. In a March Korea Times column entitled “New breed of N. Koreans,” Lankov talks about how a generational shift could someday trigger the demise of the Kim Il-sung clan’s rule.
Likewise, the author shares the view that young North Koreans born during the great famine of the 1990s, known as the “arduous march,” could emerge as a powerful force to bring sweeping changes to the Communist state.
The former diplomat stressed the years between 2015 and 2020 will be crucial in determining the future of Kim Jong-un era. “That is the time when these young people, who have known a life outside the state-controlled economy, will officially enter adulthood. Their calls for economic and political reform could become hard to ignore,” Kim said.
A downside about this book is that the author is overly expressive about his political sentiment. After reading this book there is no doubt which side of the political spectrum he stands and in what direction he would like to see the upcoming presidential race turn out.
As a harsh critic of Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy, the author does not hide his frustrations over the failures of conciliatory measures toward the North by the administrations of the late Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.
But any mistakes made by former governments can be used as lessons for future ones. Kim’s book will be useful for policymakers working toward better inter-Korean relations and for anyone who wishes to learn more about the history and the possible future of security issues on the Korean Peninsula.