Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Marvellous South Korean Media Machine

A small cornucopia of may-or-may-not be true stuff coming out of the Korean media today, not least among which was the juiciest titbit that tells us Kim Jong Eun is now the head of the National Security Agency.

Elsewhere, there is a heart-warming tale about how people in the most inhospitable areas of Gangwon Province, a larger than average province divided down the middle by the 38th Parallel, have been living off items provided at random by those private groups in South Korea who make a habit of floating balloons full of medicine, other usable items and anti-Kim propaganda across the DMZ and into North Korea, much to the chagrin of both the Kim regime and the opposition Democratic Party.

"They are using stuff like lighters sent over from South Korea hanging from balloons," the piece explains, adding by way of disconcertingly vague explanation, "A long time ago a load of South Korean-made products were left there; the people value and are using them."

Third on the block is a piece re-reported by the Chosun Ilbo from a Changchun daily newspaper, which announces that 'Three Nation Tours' started being offered by Chinese tour agencies at the start of April, taking in the delights of the Yanbian Autonomous Region of China, Rasun in North Korea and Russia's starkly beautiful Far East. It's allegedly a three-company joint affair, led on the North Korean side by the Rasun Tourism Company, which may or may not choose to translate itself that way given half a chance.

The route as it stands appears to begin in Hunchun, before going by train to Slavyanka, a place which Wikipedia reliably informs me has a population of less than 20,000, and down to Rasun. However, the authorities in Yanbian are, it alleges, working to open up a route down through Rasun to Pyongyang and on to Panmunjom, which, if it came to pass, would surely get the blood swirling in the loins of those who dream of that illusive train trip from the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula to Busan... 'all' one would have to do is sneak onto a train out of the Kaesong Complex...

Anyway, to return to that first story about Kim Jong Eun, I think I would generally tend to doubt it, but there has been a weight of rumor in North Korea of late that says recent harsh decrees have been his doing, and the unusually strict enforcement of said decrees only adds weight to the suspicions. Here, to name but one.

That said, no story about a harsh decree in North Korea is any longer complete without the addition of a comment about Kim Jong Eun. It is surely a fierce battle to decide who hates him more; the people of North Korea, or South Korean activists who write about him.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Kim Who Was Never Going to Be 'There'

There has always been a National Defense Commission. It used to be small, and concerned itself with security matters.

But when an omnipotent founding father begins to fade and then passes away, his successor cannot merely shove the elder statesman aside and step into his ruling slippers as if nothing has happened. God lord no, such a thing would never do! The ailing-soon-to-be-former leader is a God, a hero amongst men; not, in short, someone to be cast aside without a second thought!

So what did Kim Jong Il do when his father died? Well, first he mourned for three years while a devastating famine swept the northern provinces of the country. Then, rather like Stalin at the dawn of World War 2, he pulled himself together and made a plan. That plan was quite good, actually. First, he vowed to turn the country, more than it already was, into a military dictatorship. Then, having adopted this notion of ‘Military-first’ rule, he took the National Defense Commission, which he had been leading as Commander-in-Chief since 1991, and turned it into the de facto state ruling body, thus becoming, to every newsreader on the peninsula, “National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong Il…”

Now, fast forward fifteen years or so. There is a new leader on the rise, or so it is said. And he, too, has a problem. First of all, his father isn’t dead either, although in many ways this is fortunate since the young man doesn’t have much to work with as it stands. No, the real problem is that this young man needs a way to rule, a route by which to grip the levers of power. The same problem this young man’s father had is back to haunt him; his own father has been lionized for so long, been elevated to the verge of that pantheon of Gods upon which his grandfather sits (though nowadays the nation’s subjects apparently laugh into their hands as they speak of such things). He cannot simply walk in the older man's shoes. To reiterate; he can’t just step into the leader’s slippers!

So, just as his father did, this young man goes in through the side door. This is a military state, so he needs to take power in that field; in short, he needs to find a seat on a military… commission? Yes, that’s the answer, a military commission! How about the Central Military Commission? Bravo!

We should perhaps not, then, be particularly stunned by the fact that even Kim Jong Eun's name itself went unsaid yesterday. Kim Jong Il is the National Defense Commission, and when he dies, the National Defense Commission may well die with him. Kim Jong Eun, meanwhile, needs to find a different road...