By Lee Chang-sup
There is a Korean proverb that says no rich family will last three generations. North Korea’s dynastic succession has many ironic facts that need space in the Guinness Book of World Records.
First, it is the first time in a “socialist republic’s” history that three generations of the same family have tried to rule a nation.
Second, North Korea is the only country in the world where a 20-something man with no military experience becomes a four-star general in a single day. It is also the first time that a leader’s sister became a four-star general together with her niece on the same day.
Third, even for ignorant North Koreans, Jong-un is out of the blue. The third Kim came from nowhere. He is too young and too much a manufactured leader (undergoing cosmetic surgery?) rather than a natural and respected born-leader. He looks like an heir “unapparent.”
Fourth, the North has perfected social control of its people. Therefore, there is no revolution or coup against the Kim family ― also a first.
Fifth, many failed Sub-Saharan African states are better than North Korea. In Zimbabwe, Mugabe was an independence fighter. He has been ruling the African country after independence till now as Pyongyang’s Kim family has ruled. However, Zimbabwe has a multi-party system. The current Prime Minister is from the opposition party. If Mugabe dies, he will surely become the President.
Sixth, it is irrelevant to compare North Korea with Cuba or China. Cuban intellectuals and professors criticize the government. Cubans sometimes protest high-gasoline prices, not like walking 20 kilometers in North Korea without any cars or public buses. China is capitalist today ― any Chinese person who has money and time can travel globally.
Seventh, comparing the Kim Dynasty with the Joseon Dynasty is quite misleading. King’s “mandate” from heaven was to bring a good harvest and good nature so that the country would be under the blessing of the king. Sometimes kings skipped regular meals when the country was going through drought or flood.
The Kim family has been eating well, while up to 3 million North Koreans reportedly died of famine. Why is Jong-un so fat when everybody is thin there? He looks like a fat-cat capitalist in the Communist country, which demonizes capitalism as a drug that paralyzes consciousness. No genius in the world could save the starving regime, and without China’s help its survival is at risk.
Eighth, Pyongyang is also snubbing British Lord Acton’s law of power. He said power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Kim Jong-il believes the Kim dynasty is capable of prolonging absolute corrupt power forever.
Ninth, even Communist leaders know nostalgia marketing. They took pains to make Jong-un a carbon copy of his grandfather Kim Il-sung to whom North Koreas have a sentimental attachment.
The unsmiling man wore the same suit as his grandfather. His curled hairstyle was carefully choreographed to make him look like Kim Il-sung. He also mastered a hand-clapping style modeled after his grandfather and father.
Tenth, the North has an inflated opinion of its importance in the world. It announced Jung-un's succession after midnight ― working time in the United States. Kim Jong-il believes that the world should know of the emergence of a new leader before its people knew it.
North Korea released photos showing a series of festivals to celebrate the coronation of another “Dear Leader.” A closer look at their faces in the photos revealed many of the mobilized crowd are expressionless. A long time ago, the North became a “fool’s paradise.”
North Koreans appear to have tunnel vision ― they do not have the contemporary and historical experience of democratic governance. They have no choice but to become double-thinkers, double-doers, daytime socialists and nighttime capitalists in an illusion of unity. North Koreans cannot express their views on Jong-un in the propaganda-rich and information-poor country, which has erected a force-field of censorship.
Dramatizing the power succession through propaganda does not solve the woes the North faces, as it tries to change its appearance without altering anything fundamental. Pyongyang has not solved its fundamental problems but shelved them.
South Korea and its allies do not want to open a can of worms. They are silent on this ugly truth and popular nonsense. They may know that any internal meddling will only anger the North without producing any changes.
What should South Korea, the United States and other countries surrounding the Korean Peninsula do? Probably, North Korea will not last as it is today till 2020. Seoul may need to chart short-term (from now till 2012), midterm (2012-2015) and long-term (2015-2020) contingency plans.
This tiered approach is effective for understanding what is going on inside the North and charting future outcomes, including famine and its total breakdown.
The South needs to activate a regular consulting mechanism with the United States, Japan, China and Russia. Seoul’s policy makers need to educate the people to be ready for reunification. The United States will also need to strategize how to help the South reunify the two Koreas without war or serious conflict. The South needs to persuade China that a unified Korea will be of benefit to the Middle Kingdom.
There should be no need to panic if the North challenges the South again. Jong-un needs to do that to prove that he is in charge; not now, but someday in the future.
South Korea has difficulty in coping with the North Korean issue in a consistent and strategic way due to the change of power every five years. Under the liberal rule of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, Seoul pursued an active engagement policy. Suddenly, the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration adopted disengagement. In 2012 when North marks the centennial of the Kim Il-sung’s birth, the South will hold a presidential election. Kim Jong-il knows how to exploit a change of power in the South.
Lee Chang-sup is the chief editorial writer of The Korea Times. He can be reached at koreatimes.co.kr