– This just in: North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is still dead. And here are the pictures of his body lying in state to prove it. One of my work colleagues wants to know what’s up with Kim Jong-un’s hair.
– Victor Cha asks if North Korea is set to become China’s newest province:
But even as Beijing sticks close to its little Communist brother, there are intense debates within its leadership about whether the North is a strategic liability. It was one thing to back a hermetic but stable regime under Kim Jong-il; it will be harder to underwrite an untested leadership. For Xi Jinping, expected to become China’s president over the next year, the first major foreign policy decision will be whether to shed North Korea or effectively adopt it as a province.
All indications are that Beijing will pursue the latter course, in no small part because of a bias among its leadership to support the status quo, rather than to confront dramatic change. And yet “adopting” North Korea could be dramatic in itself. China may go all in, doling out early invitations and new assistance packages to the young Mr. Kim, conditioning them on promises of economic reform.
While some observers hope that Kim Jong-il’s death will unleash democratic regime change, China will work strongly against that possibility, especially if such efforts receive support from South Korea or the United States. Given that Beijing has the only eyes inside the North, Washington and Seoul could do little in response.
– Here are some scenarios for Kim Jong-un’s future, none of which are pretty. My money is still on “more of the same,” though.
– According to AEI’s Lara Crouch, there are some wildcards in Kim Jong-un’s succession (HT to reader). I like the AEI—we’re big fans of Nick Eberstadt, as you well know—and I don’t mean to be snobbish, but I do hesitate to accept North Korea prognostication from somebody who seems to think Jong Il, Jong Un, etc. are family names.
– For fans of Christine Ahn, here she is at Democracy Now! discussing North Korea and the death of Kim Jong-il (HT to matheus). Well, I’m sure she’s a lovely woman in person…
– Listen to One Free Korea‘s Joshua Stanton at Coffee & Markets (HT to Hume’s Bastard)
– After you’ve made your way through Christine and Joshua, listen to the WSJ’s Evan Ramstad discuss what’s next for North Korea at CNBC.
– At the Cato Institute’s blog, Doug Bandow thinks we should—sit down for this—withdraw from South Korea:
Washington can do little during this process. The United States should maintain its willingness to talk with the North. American officials also should engage Beijing over the future of the peninsula, exploring Chinese concerns and searching for areas of compromise. For instance, Washington should pledge that there would be no American bases or troops in a reunited Korea, which might ease Beijing’s fears about the impact of a North Korean collapse.
Most important, the Obama administration should not rush to “strengthen” the alliance with South Korea in response to uncertainty in the North. The Republic of Korea is well able to defend itself. It should take the steps necessary to deter North Korean adventurism and develop its own strategies for dealing with Pyongyang. America should be withdrawing from an expensive security commitment which no longer serves U.S. interests.
Kim Jong-il imposed unimaginable hardship on the North Korean people. However, what follows him could be even worse if an uncertain power struggle breaks down into armed conflict. Other than encourage Beijing to use its influence to bring the Kim dynasty to a merciful end, the United States can—and should—do little more than watch developments in the North.
Amen on the “doing little more than watch developments in the North” part. At least for now.
– As stated earlier, I was not in favor of expressing condolences to the North. Being an optimist, I don’t rule out the possibility of something much worse following him. Still, he did no good in this world, and plenty of bad. The Unification Ministry’s condolence statement was OK, I guess, as was the decision to let a few individuals go to the North privately. I suppose I understand why the government also decided not to light the big Xmas tree on the DMZ, too, but it does leave a bad taste in my mouth.
– So where is this from? The KCNA? The Rodong Shinmun?
Yet, the common denominator to all of them was that Kim was a resolute and iconoclastic decision-maker with intense powers of concentration. These qualities were manifested in a dilettante personality, with Kim spending all night working and demonstrating talents and interest in literature and the arts. North Korea scholars are unanimous that the three forces behind his grasp on power as a successor to Kim Il-sung were a combination of his father’s determination, his own ability, and his election by veteran partisans.
Nope, it’s the Hankyoreh! (HT to reader)
– Sometimes it’s easy to forget that these are the “pro-unification” people. I’d have linked to the Chosun Ilbo’s editorial, but it looks like they are still haven’t gotten around to translate it.
– According to the Yomiuri Shimbun (via the Seoul Shinmun), North Korea is not comfortable with foreigners—including Russians and Chinese—in their country right now. One Chinese who went to North Korea on business said foreigners were being thrown off trains for not crying.
– Finally, Ampontan comments on all the crying in North Korea:
Finally, taking all the responses as a whole, there is the unmistakable whiff of an attitude of cultural superiority as they watch others make a spectacle out of themselves. Civilized people are more seemly in their grief. There’s quite a lot of that sort of thing on the Web these days, by the way — couched in intellectualism and scientific detachment, of course.
Well, I think that’s partially true, especially when you read some comments about the public displays of grief in South Korea. To be honest, though, it’s not just Westerners who find the North Korean behavior odd—a lot of South Koreans find it weird, too. Many cried when Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun died, but it just wasn’t the same as we’re seeing in Pyongyang (to be fair, though, Park Chung-hee did get the crying treatment in 1979). Barbara Demick does a good job explaining the North Korean crying:
How does a whole crowd fake tears? Barbara Demick, in “Nothing to Envy,” her book on the ravaged social landscape of North Korea, collected accounts of how ordinary North Koreans set themselves to just that task after the death of Kim’s father, Kim Il-sung, back in 1994: “It was like a staring contest. Stare. Cry. Stare. Cry,” a student told her. “Eventually, it became mechanical. The body took over where the mind left off and suddenly he was really crying. He felt himself falling to his knees, rocking back and forth, sobbing just like everyone else.”
“Those waiting in line would jump up and down, pound their heads, collapse into theatrical swoons, rip their clothes and pound their fists at the air in futile rage. The men wept as copiously as the women.
The histrionics of grief took on a competitive quality. Who could weep the loudest? The mourners were egged on by the TV news, which broadcast hours and hours of people wailing, grown men with tears rolling down their cheeks, banging their heads on trees, sailors banging their heads agains the masts of their ships, pilots weeping in the cockpit, and so on. These scenes were interspersed with footage of lightning and pouring rain. It looked like Armageddon.”