North Korea shock. Something big is happening
It is impossible to know exactly what is going on in North Korea, but something big has happened. The third generation Kim dynasty heir, Kim Jong-un, has been missing from public sight for a month, and may be ill, dead, or overthrown. There is much speculation, and contradictory reports are circulating, including the assertion that Pyongyang is sealed off, and no one is being permitted to enter or leave. But one fact is clear and it is dramatic. CNN reports:
With Kim Jong Un out of sight for a month, a covey of North Korea's high officials popped down to South Korea for a last minute jaunt on Saturday, and delivered a diplomatic bonbon.
The three officials told South Korea that Pyongyang is willing to hold a second round of high-level meetings between late October and early November, South Korea's Unification Ministry said in a statement Saturday.
Hwang Pyong-so (left), director of North Korean military`s General Political Bureau, shake hands with South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae at Incheon Oakwood Hotel on Saturday. (Yonhap)
High level visits from North Korea to Seoul don’t just happen casually, because some people wanted to attend the closing ceremonies of the Asian Games, the official pretext being offered. I strongly suspect that some kind of deal with the South is being sought by the North, probably out of desperation over their situation, which is very bad, and possibly triggered by Kim Jong un’s illness, death, incapacity, or overthrow.
Politics in North Korea revolve around factions built on personal loyalty. If there is currently a group that wants some form of rapprochement with the South in power, it is always possible that they will be overthrown by a hardline group. However, the willingness of people to leave Pyongyang and visit Seoul suggests that they are reasonably confident of their hold on power.
The fundamental dynamics of North Korea’s confrontation with the South have changed dramatically over the past decade, leading me to be more hopeful than ever before of the possibility of reform there.
North Korea is no longer hermetically sealed off from information about the outside world.
Until the advent of cheap video players and memory sticks, as well as cheap cell phones, in many cases dropped or smuggled into North Korea, most people knew very little about the vast gulf that separated their lives from those of their cousins south of the border. But now, thanks to these technologies cheaply produced in mass quantities by South Korea and widely available in the North, despite the regime’s best efforts, North Korean realize that they do not have to live at the margin of starvation, that people just like them, quite nearby, have cars, air-conditioning, flat screen TVs, and all the appurtenances of a prosperous modern life.
Those propaganda videos on the glories of the Kim family and the need to fight back against the imperialist exploiters of the South Korean masses fall a little flat these days. South Korea is now a rich, developed nation, a peer of Europe, Japan and America, and that is a huge source of pride for Koreans, whose national inferiority complex is severe, after decades of subjugation to the Japanese that still rankles.
If Kim Jong-un is dead, seriously ill, or overthrown, finding a legitimate successor may be quite difficult. Given the factionalism there, competing successors may exist, and war between factions associated with them could be anticipated.
It may seem that the wealth South Korea potentially could provide would heal a lot of wounds, particularly if the leadership negotiates an amnesty for themselves, and perhaps enough money to live comfortably in the south of France for the rest of their days.
I have to wonder how much information our South Korean allies are sharing with American diplomats. If I were they, I would be very cautious about involving the Obama administration, whose diplomatic competence is open to serious question.
It is always possible that nothing will come of this shocking diplomatic foray, or that the forces of the hardliners in Pyongyang will triumph. Or even that a desperate war will be started by a regime that fears its own death.
But for now, I have my fingers crossed that we may finally see the end of an evil, repressive, communist regime.