The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Tag: Kim Jong-un

Failed attempt to remove Kim Jong-un launched last year: JoongAng Ilbo

A source familiar with intel on North Korea told the JoongAng Ilbo that there was a failed but violent attempt to remove Kim Jong-un from power in downtown Pyongyang last year.

Who did what when was not specified, but the source said the attempt appears to have been launched by unhappy campers sometime prior to Gen. Kim Yong-chol’s demotion in November. The source also said it was worth noting this attempt took place in downtown Pyongyang, not while Kim was off in the provinces.

Gen. Kim, BTW, is a military hardliner who commanded the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong-do in 2010. North Korea apparently treats its generals like George Steinbrenner used to treat Yankee prospects—Kim was made a four star general in February of last year, but was demoted to two stars in November. Last month, however, he appeared at a performance with Kim Jong-un wearing four stars again.

The source also noted there was a firefight between different factions of the General Reconnaissance Bureau last year. The General Reconnaissance Bureau, which oversees operations against the South, was created in 2009 after several smaller organizations were merged. Alumni from the merged organizations began fighting for control of the new bureau, with tensions eventually erupting into a firefight. Gen. Kim, who heads the bureau, took responsibility for the mess and was demoted to three stars, He was demoted again to two stars after the attempt on Kim’s life. Or so said the source, who noted that the attempt could have been related to a purge that took place after the bureau firefight.

According to the JoongAng, intelligence authorities believe the attempt on Kim Jong-un has played a role in North Korea’s naughty behavior of late—including the long-range missile test, nuke test and armistice threats. To wit, Kim has joined hands with hardliners to stabilize and unify his regime.

Sources also told the JoongAng Ilbo that Kim Jong-un has secretly ordered that a three-stage scenario be drawn up to really heighten fear of nuclear war.

The first stage is aimed primarily at South Korea and North Korea’s own people, and involves threats to abandon the Armistice to create a sense of crisis and the spreading of rumors that a war is soon to begin. In the second stage, North Korea would advise foreigners residing in North Korea to leave and inform foreign embassies to get their nationals out, warning that North Korea would be unable to guarantee their safety in the event of a war. If South Korea still hasn’t caved, the third stage would kick in, involving terrorist strikes on South Korean public facilities or limited provocations like the Cheonan sinking. A high-ranking government official said North Korea was really concerned about public discontent when the food situation turns bad in April. He said Kim Jong-un doesn’t really want a war, but it wants to solve the discontent by heightening the sense of crisis and find a way to get sanctions like South Korea’s May 24 sanctions removed. He added that he was concerned that North Korea would choose to go with something you couldn’t immediately pin on them—like a terrorist attack or the something like the Cheonan sinking—rather than a localized provocation in which they will likely suffer major retaliation.

Marmot’s Note: Could be bullshit. Or not. Don’t ask me—I don’t work for the CIA.

So, is Kim Jong-un a reformer or not?

Well, if you’re asking me, I’d say he’s a kid whose in over his head and will be lucky if he isn’t swinging from a lamppost within five years.

But I’m just a hack blogger.

John Delury—an assistant professor of East Asian Studies at Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies and a senior fellow of Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations—is a much smarter guy, and seems to think the winds of change may in fact be blowing in Pyongyang:

The ghost of Deng Xiaoping may lurk in Pyongyang, with signs that the world’s youngest head of state is trying to shake up his isolated and impoverished nation. From the sudden dismissal of his top military leader, on grounds of “illness,” to a pop music show featuring American icons Mickey Mouse and Rocky Balboa, to a novel guest- worker program allowing North Koreans to earn hard currency in China, Kim Jong Un is taking a firm grip on power even as he loosens strictures and tells officials to try new things.

With a million-man army and nuclear weapons program, North Korea remains a source of uncertainty and instability, with many questions about whether Kim Jong Un can bring the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea peaceably into the 21st century. But the example of Deng Xiaoping’s early efforts to modernize and moderate a deeply ideological China suggests promising parallels.

That North Korea flagrantly violated copyrights with Mickey Mouse shows they’re at least learning something from China.

Meanwhile, at Foreign Policy, Victor Cha has his doubts:

Rumors of a new economic policy being hatched in Pyongyang only fuel speculation that junior Kim is serious about change. Similar predictions were made in 1994 when Kim Jong Il, then a sprightly 52, took over after his 82-year-old father Kim Il Sung died. Needless to say, the reforms never happened. But apparently, believers in the irresistibility of Disney, Dior, and Coke have short memories and tall hopes of a China-type economic modernization coming to North Korea.

Let me be blunt: The North Korean regime will not change because Little Kim studied in Switzerland, likes Mickey Mouse, and has a hot wife. If anything, another crisis could be looming: The death of Kim Jong Il and the politics of an unstable leadership transition, a new “get-tough” attitude in Seoul, and U.S. and South Korean electoral cycles constitute a unique confluence of escalation that has not been seen on the peninsula since the 1990s. This could spell another nuclear crisis with North Korea, or even worse, military hostilities that could threaten the peace and prosperity of the region.

Read the rest on your own.

Squashed coups, N. Korean economic reform & other rumors

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 Timeswrites 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.

In case anyone actually gives a shit…

In North Korea, Kim Jong-un has been promoted to “marshal.”

If you were wondering what North Korea’s “major announcement” set for noon was, that was it. Sorry to disappoint.

If you need to attach meaning to this, Aidan Foster-Carter told the WSJ:

“I think the tide has turned,” said Aidan Foster-Carter, a North Korea watcher at Leeds University in England. “Under Kim Jong Il, possibly because his own military credentials weren’t so strong, the military rose significantly. But Kim Jong Eun’s arrival has been managed by the political party.”

Personally, I think this means KJU is really, really good at Call of Duty. Which reminds me, I need to go down to Yongsan and pick up a copy of Spec Ops: The Line, which I’ve read great things about.

Bruce Cumings on North Korea’s transition

Love or hate him, Bruce Cumings speaks a lot of sense in his Le Monde diplomatique piece on North Korea’s transition. Read it on your own— here’s just a taste:

My first visit to North Korea was in 1981. I flew from Beijing and hoped to go out through the Soviet Union on the Trans-Siberian railway. Consular officials said I should obtain a visa at the Soviet embassy in Pyongyang. When I got there, a friendly (read KGB) counsellor offered me cognac and inquired what I might be doing in Pyongyang. Then he asked what I thought of Kim Jong-il, who had just been officially designated as successor to Kim Il-sung at the 6th Party Congress in 1980. “Well, he doesn’t have his father’s charisma,” I said; “He’s diminutive, pear-shaped, homely. Looks like his mother.” The counsellor replied: “Oh, you Americans, always thinking about personality. Don’t you know they have a bureaucratic bloc behind him, they all rise or fall with him — these people really know how to do this. You should come back in 2020 and see his son take power.”

It was the best prediction I’ve ever heard about this communist state-cum-dynasty, even if Kim Jong-il’s heart attack at 69 hastened the succession to Kim Jong-un by a few years. North Korea has known only millennia of monarchy and then a century of dictatorship — Japanese from 1910-1945 (in the late stages of colonial rule Koreans had to worship the Japanese emperor), and then for the past 66 years the hegemony of the Kim family.

Cumings concludes, “Kim Jong-un may not yet be 30, but if my Soviet interlocutor is right, we are going to see his face for a long, long time.” The pessimist in me says he’s probably right. Still, while I find the analogies Cumings draws between North Korea and Joseon Dynasty interesting, I think it’s possible to find precedent in Joseon history suggesting other possible outcomes, too, including a palace coup (eerily involving an uncle overthrowing his nephew), military insurrection or popular uprisings leading to foreign intervention.

‘Who put Perez Hilton in charge of our diplomatic corps?’

I thought that line was pretty funny:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Il Communication
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor The Daily Show on Facebook

The crack comparing Kim Jong-un to the kid in “Up” was pretty funny, too.

Juche, bitches

OK, this is mildly amusing.

(HT to Hamel)

Interestingly, I read Kim Jong-un is a big fan of former Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman. Oddly enough, my father liked Rodman quite a bit, too: sure, he’s a freak, but between the rebounding, defense and diving after loose balls, nobody worked harder.

Kim Dynasty 3.0

They Live” is on TV right now, but I’ll take a moment to note that Kim Jong-il has apparently chosen his successor — 26-year-old Kim Jong-un:

North Korea’s ailing leader has chosen his youngest son — who is just 26, attended a Swiss boarding school and reportedly admires basketball great Michael Jordan — as heir to the family dynasty that rules the secretive state, South Korea’s intelligence service told lawmakers in Seoul.

Kim Jong Un is the third son of Kim Jong Il, the “Dear Leader” who suffered a stroke last summer and who has since appeared thin and frail. He is the grandson of the late Kim Il Sung, the “Great Leader” and founding dictator of North Korea.

If Kim Jong Un does become the new leader — and there are analysts who doubt the decision is final — this second consecutive father-to-son handoff would be unique among nations that call themselves communist. There was no indication, however, that Kim Jong Il would be handing over power any time soon.

I’m just bummed Kim Jong-nam didn’t get the job, although then again, he sort of purged himself.

As the BBC notes, nobody really knows anything about him. In fact, only one photo of the kid is known to exist, taken when he was 11. Don’t look for info in the Korean press, either — they’re quoting Kim Jong-il’s former sushi chef like everyone else.

I did learn from the Kookmin Ilbo, however, that Jong-un is apparently a fan of Jean-Claude Van Damme. That can’t be good for world peace.

Anyway, it’s back to “They Live.” I had no idea Rowdy Roddy Piper was from Canada…

© 2015 The Marmot's Hole

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑