Monday, December 26, 2011

DPRK News Update: Kim Jong Il Meets South Korean Delegation; Western Misconceptions Exposed

Kim Jong Il's heir meets with SKorean delegation

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea's next leader burnished his diplomatic skills, solemnly welcoming a private South Korean mourning delegation and offering his thanks, as state media called Kim Jong Un a "sagacious" leader and revealed a new title that gives him authority over political matters.

Kim has rapidly gained prominence since the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, on Dec. 17, and his brief meeting with a group led by a former South Korean first lady and a prominent business leader shows Seoul that he is assured in his new role.

State media have showered Kim with new titles. On Monday, the main Rodong Sinmun newspaper described him as head of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party — a post that appears to make him the top official in the ruling party. That came two days after the North referred to him as "supreme leader" of the 1.2 million-strong armed forces and said the military's top leaders had pledged their loyalty to him.

Late Monday, Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency also called Kim a "sagacious leader" and "dear" comrade while reporting that he again paid respects to his father, whose body is lying in state at Kumsusan Memorial Palace. State media have already dubbed him as a "great successor" and an "outstanding leader."

KCNA also indicated that Kim will uphold his father's trademark "military-first" policy.

"As dear comrade Kim Jong Un, who is a sagacious leader of our party, state and military, is at the forefront of our revolutionary cause, the history of our father and general's glorious military-first revolution will continue," it said.

Also on Monday, Kim met a private delegation of South Koreans and gave them his thanks after they expressed condolences and sympathy over his father's death.

The lead delegates were the widow of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who engineered a "sunshine" engagement policy with the North and held a landmark summit with Kim Jong Il in 2000, and Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, whose late husband had ties to the North. North Korea sent delegations to Seoul when the women's husbands died.

They stood in a line on a red carpet and bowed silently during their visit to the Kumsusan palace, where Kim Jong Il's bier is surrounded by flowers and flanked by an honor guard, footage from AP Television News in Pyongyang showed. Kim Jong Un and the two women later exchanged handshakes and clasped their hands when they had brief conversations, the footage showed. Their conversations were inaudible.

Through the meeting, Kim appeared to have sent a message pushing South Korea to pursue previously agreed upon cooperative projects that would give his country much-needed hard currency, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies.

Monday's meeting appeared to be Kim's first meeting with South Koreans since his father's death. It was also the fourth time the North's media reported that Kim had visited the memorial palace since his father's death, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.

On Tuesday, the two lead South Korean delegates met Kim Yong Nam, president of Presidium of North Korea's parliament, who often represents the country and is considered a nominal head of state, according to the APTN footage. The delegates were to return to South Korea later Tuesday.

The Kim family has extended its control over the country of 24 million people to a third generation with Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20s and was revealed last year as his father's choice among three sons for successor.

Kim Jong Il, who ruled North Korea for 17 years, wielded power as head of three main state organs: the Workers' Party, the Korean People's Army and the National Defense Commission. His father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, remains the nation's "eternal president" long after his 1994 death.

Kim Jong Un was named a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party last year, but was expected to ascend to new military and political posts while being groomed to become the next leader.

Monday's reference to his new title was in a commentary in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Workers' Party, urging soldiers to dedicate their lives "to protect the party's Central Committee headed by respected Comrade Kim Jong Un." Rodong Sinmun has also called on the people to become "eternal revolutionary comrades" with Kim, "the sun of the 21st century."

The language echoed slogans used for years to rally support for Kim Jong Il, and made clear that the son is quickly moving toward leadership of the Workers' Party, one of the country's highest positions, in addition to the military.

North Korea refers to Kim Il Sung as the "sun" of the nation, and his birthday is celebrated as the "Day of the Sun." State media have sought to emphasize Kim Jong Un's role in carrying out the Kim family legacy throughout his succession movement.

His titles are slight variations of those held by his father, but appear to carry the same weight. It was unclear whether the nation's constitution had been changed to reflect the transfer of leadership as when Kim Jong Il took power after his father's death.

Mourning continued, meanwhile, despite frigid winter weather, in the final days before Kim Jong Il's funeral, which is set to take place Wednesday, and a memorial Thursday.

People continued lining up Monday in central Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square, where a massive portrait that usually features Kim Il Sung has been replaced by one of Kim Jong Il, to bow before his smiling image and to lay funeral flowers. Heated buses stood by to give mourners a respite from the cold, and hot tea and water were distributed from beverage kiosks.

Associated Press writers Foster Klug, Hyung-jin Kim and Jiyoung Won in Seoul, South Korea, and AP Korea bureau chief Jean H. Lee contributed to this report. Follow AP's Korea coverage at and


December 27, 2011 04:38 IST

The West's misconceptions about North Korea

Narayan Lakshman

A reasonably stable transition can be expected in North Korea, says Bruce Cumings of the University of Chicago

Following the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il less than two weeks ago, the world has speculated on the succession question and what that means for stability in a region populated with nuclear weapons. While many discussions have focused on the uncertainty surrounding the Pyongyang's process of selecting its next leader, Bruce Cumings of the University of Chicago, the preeminent American scholar on the Korean Peninsula, has for years consistently outlined a contrarian view of North Korean politics that defies common stereotypes of the country. In an email interview, Professor Cumings spoke to Narayan Lakshman about how he expects North Korea to stride forth into the 21st century after the loss of its “Dear Leader.”

At the University of Chicago Prof. Cumings' research and teaching focus on modern Korean history, 20th century international history, U.S.-East Asian relations, East Asian political economy, and American foreign relations. His first book, The Origins of the Korean War, won the John King Fairbank Book Award of the American Historical Association, and the second volume of this study won the Quincy Wright Book Award of the International Studies Association. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1999, and in 2007 he won the Kim Dae Jung Prize for Scholarly Contributions to Democracy, Human Rights and Peace.

What do you think the United States can do in the immediate aftermath of Kim Jong-il's passing to influence outcomes in the region?

For the time being I don't see any way the U.S. can influence the situation in North Korea, but it should refrain from making comments about a “power struggle” in the North [as Hillary Clinton did several times in 2009], which is not likely to be true, and will be taken as very insulting by the leadership.

Who will Kim Jong-il's successor be and what sort of transition process can we expect?

The only real precedent we have for the aftermath of Kim's death is what happened in 1994 when Kim Il-sung died, and there was next to no serious disruption in the leadership of the country, then or since. Kim Jong-il did not appear for several years, the equivalent of the three years of mourning required of the prince when the king died in pre-modern Korea; during this time the leadership seemed paralysed, doing nothing, or very little, to stem the famine that quickly swept the country after 1995. But, on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the regime in September 1998, there was Kim Jong-il emerging clearly on top. So one can expect a similar passage in the North for the next months and years, except that Kim Jong-un has far less experience than his father — Kim Jong-il was clearly going to be his father's successor from the early 1970s onward, and had decades of experience in all kinds of roles before he became the top leader. The person who will most likely serve as a bridge between father and son is Jong-il's brother-in-law, Chang Song-taek, who has long been in charge of the top security agencies.

His role will be analogous to that of the Taewon'gun in the 1860s, regent to King Kojong, when the Kojong was much younger even than Kim Jong-un, but this regent successfully guided Kojong until he became a genuine leader, one whose rule lasted for decades.

If he becomes North Korea's next leader, do you think the younger Kim will manage the country differently to his father?

The best hope for the future is the Swiss education that Jong-un and his brothers got, giving them years of experience in a free Western country, whereas neither Jong-il nor his father had any experience of the West — neither got farther than East Berlin. Many changes have also happened in recent years in the North — hundreds if not thousands of markets, many joint ventures with foreign firms, the huge export zone at Kaeson, where foreign firms employ more than 40,000 North Koreans. So, that might make for a “happy ending” in the form of a soft landing for this dictatorship, more opening to the outside world, and eventual decompression of totalitarianism. The caveat here is the Arab Spring of 2011, which began in Tunisia but spread not just throughout the Middle East but by the end of the year to Occupy Wall Street and huge demonstrations in Russia against Putin. That will make the Pyongyang leadership very wary of its own people.

What is your view on the suggestion that the transition period poses certain risks that could exacerbate uncertainty for the country?

The media — the New York Times, CNN, Fox, and many other outlets here and abroad — constantly mistake this regime for a one-man dictatorship. In fact an entire generation of leaders rose in tandem with Kim Jong-il and they are now in power and have much privilege to protect, with Jong-un being the key symbol of continuity and power. Furthermore, a senior generation guided the transition to both Jong-il and his son — the ones still alive still being strong leaders on the most powerful body, the National Defence Commission; they may be octogenarians, but they have a huge army behind them, and this is also one of the most patriarchal societies in the world. So their guidance and control will most likely enable a second reasonably stable political transition. We can also hope that the new leadership will have much more concern for the welfare of their own people, rather than simply securing their own power — the latter being the epitaph for Kim Jong-il's 17-years of leadership, a record of failure at almost every level except the critical one of maintaining maximum power for his family and the regime.

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