Got to give Ye Olde Chosun credit—they seem to have stirred the shit.
In The Atlantic’s Open Wire, John Hudson—quoting Ye Olde Chosun and the Korea Times—writes that Kim Jong-un might have just squashed a coup.
Hudson also quotes a MUST READ report from Reuters’ Benjamin Kang Lim that seems to suggest Kim Jong-un might be moving to reform North Korea’s economy:
Impoverished North Korea is gearing up to experiment with agricultural and economic reforms after young leader Kim Jong-un and his powerful uncle purged the country’s top general for opposing change, a source with ties to both Pyongyang and Beijing said.
The source added that the cabinet had created a special bureau to take control of the decaying economy from the military, one of the world’s largest, which under Kim’s father was given pride of place in running the country.
“Ri Yong-ho was the most ardent supporter of Kim Jong-il’s ‘military first’ policy,” the source told Reuters, referring to Kim Jong-un’s late father who plunged the North deeper into isolation over its nuclear ambitions, abject poverty and political repression.
A Korea University professor quoted in the piece predicted Pyongyang would move ahead with joint ventures with China, but a Chinese North Korea expert expressed skepticism that North Korea would pursue economic reform.
It goes without saying that this could all be a big, steaming pile of bullshit. From the HuffPo:
So which is it – illness or a gun battle? Perhaps neither. North Korea watchers are skeptical of the illness claim, but even an unnamed government official cited in the South Korean account said the firefight “has still not been 100 percent confirmed.”
Many seemingly over-the-top news stories cite anonymous government or intelligence officials, North Korean defectors claiming to have sources in their former homeland or simply murky, unexplained, unnamed “sources.” Few explain where they get their information, and many reports turn out to be wrong.
“The less we know about a country, the more rumors we tend to create about it,” said Kim Byeong-jo, a North Korea professor at the Korea National Defense University in Seoul. “When curiosity is especially strong, rumors grow more sensational. … Imagination takes over where facts are scarce and sources are unclear.”
At any rate, North Korea watching is, in the words of the inimitable Joshua Stanton of One Free Korea (whose blog we can now read once again in Korea), “an inherently speculative hobby”:
North Korea watching is an inherently speculative hobby. How could it be otherwise when our most reliable information comes from satellite images and reports from KCNA, the world’s least credible news organization? The problem with having no solid facts to argue is that no one is really an expert, and anyone can pretend to be, present company included. Even “inside” sources are suspect; after all, much of their information is probably disinformation. That’s why you’ll see a lot divergent and theoretical explanations whenever the North Koreans do something that catches out attention. We see this in the analysis of the sacking of General Ri Yong Ho and the “promotion” of Kim Jong Un to the military rank of Marshal.
If you’re allergic to skepticism, stay away from Joshua’s post. If not, it’s a great read.
The Hankyoreh—ever the optimists when it comes to North Korea—believes whatever happened in North Korea might be an opportunity to improve inter-Korean relations:
This flurry of activity raises two major questions. One is what the newly organized regime’s focus will be, and the other is whether it will be able to remain stable. In answer to the first question, the chances are good that we will see Pyongyang moving away from isolation and “military first” policies toward openness and “economy first” measures. Ri was one of the key military conservatives, whereas National Defense Commission deputy chairman Jang Song-thaek and People’s Army politburo chief Choi Ryong-hae – both of whom saw their stature rise in the reshuffling – are considered supporters of reforms and openness, and have civilian backgrounds. Furthermore, both Kim Jong-un and the Rodong Sinmun, the WPK central committee’s newspaper, have put an emphasis in recent speeches or reports on building of a strong economy to inherit the mantle of the military first policies.
Kudos to the Hani for putting a positive spin on the never-ending farce that is North Korean court politics. Still, be sure to read Joshua’s post when your done with the Hani editorial.
Personally, though, I actually hope North Korea’s going to give another try to economic reform, because I don’t believe North Korea’s economy could withstand it. The sooner they try, the sooner the regime collapses, and the better off the world will be, if only in the long run.