In a series of articles on the death of Kim Jong Il the Korean peninsula faces deep uncertainty, yet this could be the time to change its future for the betterment of Asia and the United States.
The differences between Kim and his father were mentioned by some who said that Kim “who died on Saturday, Dec. 17, of a heart attack according to North Korean media, was a mystery, nearly ubiquitous and distant at the same time”. For a man that ruled North Korea absolutely, “Shin Dong Hyuk was born in a North Korean concentration camp and said he ‘had no idea’ who Kim Jong Il was until he escaped 22 years later. He says inmates never saw his picture.”
Others have noted the muted reaction of the South Koreans to Kim’s death. His death “came as a surprise. The South Korean government seemed to be caught off guard as well. President Lee Myung-bak called an emergency Cabinet meeting and the Unification Ministry set up a new commission to monitor all developments up North”. The author writes that “most South Koreans here really just don’t seem to care about what happens in the North”.
This is despite the fact that their northern neighbour’s have nuclear weapons and a million man army. Of course, they should care, as the coming instability in North Korea is going to affect them the most. He notes that “a state-run think tank estimated the cost of merging the two economies could run as high as $203 billion”.
As for the future a Chatham House article notes that “There will be a harsh succession process within a fractured internal system and there are no solid external relations to sustain its economy. Kim Jong-un is unlikely to last long as leader”. The author goes on to write that “the DPRK will go on, headed by Kim Jong-un under direct patronage by Chang Song Taek and Kim Kyong Hui. However, Kim Jong-un’s leadership could be challenged by Kim Jong-nam, the first son of Kim Jong-il”.
Others have argued that the only way the regime can survive is to adopt the Chinese model of authoritarian capitalism. He notes that “Most South Koreans long ago abandoned hope for the ‘Sunshine Policy’ of engagement and economic aid, and now favor a tough response to Pyongyang’s outrages”. Interestingly he argues that “Improving North Koreans’ access to information and facilitating communications — not merely issuing harsher sanctions or tough vows to meet steel with steel — are the best ways to hasten the demise of one of the world’s most odious regimes”. However, he does not suggest how this might be done in what is a backward and closed society with barely any outside information allowed into the country. He adds that ” highly inefficient collective farms and dilapidated factories with intermittent access to electricity and inputs remain the rule”. He does mention that mobile phone ownership is on the rise, albeit slowly.
Yet surely now the regime is at its weakest and thus the best time to lance the boil that is North Korea now. The old pattern of blackmailing “the West” by provocative actions is past its sell by date. It is time to break the pattern once and for all. For example it has been cited that as “South Korea’s government switched parties to a less appeasement-minded President Lee Myung Bak, North Korea launched a missile test(April 2009), an underground nuclear test (May 2009), sunk a South Korean warship(March 2010), and shelled a South Korean island and debuted a secret, previously unknown uranium enrichment facility (Nov. 2010)”.
He argues that “A coordinated effort can open North Korea, weaken the regime, and lead it to a soft landing that benefits all of its regional neighbors, while helping the North Korean people to rise up and take ownership of their nation”. He goes on to argue that “A collaborative slate of full sanctions, particularly targeting luxury goods, technology, weapons proliferation, offshore bank accounts, and key regime figureheads would cause critical damage to North Korea at the precise moment when it most needs financial stability”.
Tackling the China issue he argues that “China is not married to North Korea’s leadership or political system. It is simply looking out for its own interest and leveraging North Korea’s misbehavior for increased political capital. The solution here is straightforward: cut a deal with China”.
He adds, somewhat optimistically that “Despite a lack of civil society organizations, North Korea’s history is dotted with uprisings, including large armed clashes in the 1980s in Chongjin, Hamhung, Musan, and Sinuiju. In 1987, North Korea’s Concentration Camp Number 12 in Onson reportedly saw a mass prisoner uprising — with 5,000 inmates slaughtered by a military battalion in response. Since then, Pyongyang has witnessed uprisings and coup attempts almost every other year, to varying degrees”. This does not guarantee a future, successful revolution.
A will timed US drone strike could obliterate the North Korean leadership and cause havoc for China, all the the eventual long term benefit of American interests. Either way the regime will not last long in its current state.