Wednesday, August 1, 2012

When Is Page One Not Page One?

Yesterday, Geoffrey See unleashed Chosun Exchange's take on a controversial statement released by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland (CPRF) on July 29th, in which the CPRF declared that there is to be no "reform and opening" in North Korea.

The analysis was excellent, primarily because it went beyond simple restatement of the original Rodong Shinmun copy.

One thing it missed, however, was perhaps important: that the original statement actually appeared on page 5 of the paper version of Rodong Shinmun. It only appeared on the front page of the web version, which is for international consumption.

Can you imagine making global news out of something published on pg. 7 of the New York Times? Pg. 15 of The Guardian? No. Simply, this statement was shoved up the international agenda online for emphasis to the outside world, but it should not have been taken as much of an indication of policy. At best, think of it as what Kim Jong Il would have called "wrapping Chosun in a fog."

Nevertheless, Geoffrey did a great job of unpicking the core contents such as they were, recognising the following: 1) that the statement itself was aimed at South Korea and its impending election (all CPRF statements target the South; hence, "Those obsessed by showdown can not properly see through the essence like a half blind."); but more importantly 2) that it rejected notions of reform and opening primarily because they "conflate political and economic reform", while simultaneously 3) pointing out not that change is impossible per se, but that whatever change does come must be seen to stem from the endless victories derived from the peerless leadership of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Indeed, it could even be read as a statement of the intent to change more rather than not to change at all, as can be inferred from the following key paragraphs (translation by KCNA);
As far as “signs of policy change” are concerned, there can not be any slightest change in all policies of the DPRK as they are meant to carry forward and accomplish the ideas and cause of the peerlessly great persons generation after generation, to all intents and purposes. 
The DPRK is putting forward new strategic and tactical policies in keeping with the changing and developing situation in each stage of revolution. The puppet group is describing it as a “policy change” and tried to give impression that the present leadership of the DPRK broke with the past. This is the height of ignorance just like a deaf person saying in his favor. 
As far as “attempt at reform and opening” is concerned, the DPRK has never left any field unreformed in socialist construction but always kept its door open.
It is true that nobody is about to stand on a podium in Kim Il Sung Square and talk about the irrelevance of the colour of a cat to the act of catching mice or declare that the nation's founding fathers were "only 70% right, 30% wrong". But we already knew that, because the existence of the Mt. Baekdu bloodline forbids such things; Kim family legitimacy is rooted in its infallible revolutionary heritage, and therefore even when past decisions are being reversed the context has to be evolutionary, not revolutionary or, worse still, due to an admission of fault on the part of a past or present leader.

From this perspective, Geoffrey points to the concept of "개선 (improvement)" as the mot du jour, one that symbolises this definitive need to couch all moves toward change in the language of continuance, but he might just as well have chosen "부흥 (revival, reconstruction)" or analysed the way the North has gently moved its slogan output slightly in the direction of economic revitalisation rather than toward the taking of an alternate path outright.

And is this not what we are seeing? As symbolised by the 6.28 Policy, the North appears to be engaged in modest, piecemeal, unconvincing, poorly thought out, totally reversible and almost certainly inadequate change couched in the language of "주체 (Juche)" and "선군 (Military-first)".

Conversely, becoming a third rate parody of China or South Korea is firmly off the agenda, no matter how much Chosun Ilbo might want to see the existence of a 방한파 (loosely, "faction of those with experience of visiting South Korea"), which it feverishly imagines being led by Jang Sung Taek and basing some kind of master plan for North Korean reform on a single October 2002, 9-day, 18-man economic observation tour of places like Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Heavy Industries.

Really, such statements should not be taken as newsworthy, especially when they have been plucked from deep, deep in the recesses of the paper copy of Rodong Shinmun. The important information is to be found on the ground, not in the rhetoric.

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