Wednesday, September 29, 2010

So Is That It for 44 More Years?

The Chosun Workers' Party Delegates' Conference is over, and a veritable torrent of personnel and rule changes has been handed down. The whole thing quickly got a bit much, not least when Chosun Central News Agency (KCNA) took it upon itself to release a digest of the movers and shakers at 4:08AM on Wednesday morning.

Nevertheless, coffee brewed, news read. What did we learn, and what matters?

First, we learned that Kim Jong Il is a liar. He told Hu Jintao that the succession of Kim Jong Eun was a story cooked up by foreigners. Well, apparently not; Kim's third son has become, in the veritable blink of an eye, a "Daejang" (roughly but not really a four-star general), Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Party, and a member of the Central Committee of the Party. Not sure how Hu Jintao really views being used this way. We will probably never know.

Second, that this is all about keeping it in the family. Kim Kyung Hee, not only Kim Jong Il's biological sister but also Jang Sung Taek's wife, has become, again in the blink of an eye, a "Daejang", a full member of the Politburo and a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo. For someone who has quietly toiled at ministerial level for a good few years and without apparently seeking any more political clout, this is also quite impressive.

Third, that Jang Sung Taek is continuing to do very nicely, having been conferred with another title to add to his Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission desk label; he can now call himself a candidate member of the Politburo, should he so choose. But, Kim Jong Il may well have felt that Jang was accumulating a little too much power, since he did not make him a voice in the Standing Committee, as some anticipated that he would.

Fourth, that a few hitherto mid-level elite figures are set for greatness. A Google alert for Lee Young Ho, for example, might not be a bad idea.

Fifth, we learned that the Chinese Communist Party does a good line in wilful blindness.

Kim Jong Il has "led the entire Korean people to be self-reliant, to struggle arduously and to make great achievements in the cause of building Korean-style socialism.

The Korean people have made a series of delightful achievements in building the DPRK (North Korea) into a strong and prosperous nation, in developing the national economy, in improving the people's livelihoods, etc.”

Well indeed. I can't actually think of any achievements, let alone delightful ones, but alright.

Then there is also the issue of what did NOT happen at the Delegates' Conference; namely, that offshoots of the Kim family were not mentioned in any way, shape or form, including half-brothers Kim Pyong Il and Kim Yong Il, for example. They have been out of the loop since Kim Jong Il rose to power, but have never been quite so invisible.

Of course, with the focusing of power on relationships forged out of Kim Il Sung's marriage to Kim Jong Suk, known as the mother of modern North Korea, rather than that to second-wife Kim Song Ae, this is a natural progression.

However, it is noteworthy that this did not include second son Kim Jong Cheol. It will be interesting to see how close to the action he comes in the next couple of years.

Then there is the fact that Kim Jong Eun came to prominence down the Military-first line, which can be seen one of two ways.

Looked at negatively, it means that the pseudo-fascist military dictatorship of Kim Jong Il may be set to continue, which does not bode well for reform, economic transformation, or improvements to the people's lives.

Looked at positively, however, it is not really all that surprising, so perhaps we should not read too much into it. Kim Jong Il rules through the military, and his "guiding philosophy", such as it is, is one of militarism. Since a dictator can never actually be wrong or he/she will lose his/her legitimacy, and the principle of a dynastic succession doesn't even allow page breaks derived from deaths, such as the USSR had when Stalin passed away, or Mao in 1976, it is necessary to pretend that Kim Jong Il was right,is right and will forever be right. Therefore, Kim Jong Eun needs to rule through the military and pay lip service to the Military-first policy.

If he makes the right moves (from my perspective, not his own) then he can install his people and begin reforms after his father dies whether he is nominally a military man or not. If not, then the people of North Korea may have to suffer a bit longer. Nobody knows his plan, and it is far too early in the power transition to make predictions.

Oh, and finally, we know what he now looks like, and it is; a portlier version of his grandfather.

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