“North Korea disintegrating”

There’ve been a flurry of reports over the past six months claiming that Kim Jong-Il’s regime is on the verge of collapse. None, however, is more convincing than this piece in the London Times.

We had already witnessed one sign that North Korea’s totalitarian system is dissolving, even as its leaders boast of owning nuclear weapons to deter their enemies.

“It’s just like the Berlin Wall,” Pastor Douglas Shin, a Christian activist, said by telephone from Seoul. “The slow-motion exodus is the beginning of the end.”

In interviews for this article over many months, western policymakers, Chinese experts, North Korean exiles and human rights activists built up a picture of a tightly knit clan leadership in Pyongyang that is on the verge of collapse.

Some of those interviewed believe the “Dear Leader”, Kim Jong-il, has already lost his personal authority to a clique of generals and party cadres. Without any public announcement, governments from Tokyo to Washington are preparing for a change of regime.

The death of Kim’s favourite mistress last summer, a security clampdown on foreign aid workers and a reported assassination attempt in Austria last November against the leader’s eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, have all heightened the sense of disintegration.

The Japanese intelligence agency, in an unclassified report issued on December 24, referred to “signs of instability” inside the political establishment and predicted a feud among the elite as they strive to seize power from Kim.

[...]

Analysts in Seoul say that in recent propaganda pictures the bouffant-haired dictator is wearing the same clothes as in photographs from two years ago, suggesting that they may have been taken then. Observers await Kim’s official birthday, February 16, to see if the state media accord him the usual fawning adulation.

According to exiles, North Korean agents in Beijing and Ulan Bator are frantically selling assets to raise cash — an important sign, says one activist, because “the secret police can always smell the crisis coming before anybody else”.

This sure sounds ominous, though many Koreaphiles have viewed such articles with extreme skepticism. I wonder, can so many insiders be completely wrong on this subject?

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 4 Comments

We’ll see. This sounds like all the things I’ve heard over the years about Castro’s imminent downfall, that he supposedly doesn’t have very long left. I can also remember reports coming from North Korea over the years about Kim’s imminent downfall. One story said that North Korea would run out of food about June 21, 1997. After that there would be a massive social upheaval and the possible end of the Government there. I’m still waiting. The article you read may just be more wishful thinking on the part of the authors.

January 31, 2005 @ 3:33 pm | Comment

The question is, if and when North Korea has a change of leadership, who will it be.

Would the North get a new military government, possibly consisting of those close to power right now, looking to maintain power? Would it get a more liberal government made up of internal liberals? Or would North Korea colapse completly and be reunified with South Korea?

Either way, I can’t see there being a peasants revolt, and it would be very hazardous if the US tried to force the issue with sanctions or military action because a military government with very little to loose, and a nuclear missile or two is a very dangerous enemy.

Decaying regimes are often more dangerous than stable ones, and I think that I’m close enough to be hit by a stray nuclear missile North Korea is it decides to go out with a big showdown by targeting its neigbors, and I don’t like that idea in the sightest.

January 31, 2005 @ 10:01 pm | Comment

Asia by Blog

Asia by Blog is a twice weekly feature providing links to Asian blogs and their views on the news in this fascinating region. Previous editions can be found here. This edition contains parallels between modern Iraq and 1912 China, parallels between kam…

February 1, 2005 @ 1:21 am | Comment

The report is being discussed in the comments over at NKZone, with some sceptical voices. One commentator points out, for example, that it’s absolutely normal for the DPRK authorities to confiscate visitors’ mobile phones.

I was struck by some of the language used in the report, which reads more like a Christian activist’s newsletter than an impartial newspaper report:

Yet North Koreans confirmed that they knew that escapers to China should look for buildings displaying a Christian cross and should ask among Korean speakers for people who knew the word of Jesus.

and

The secret police cannot staunch the word of the gospel.

February 1, 2005 @ 4:47 am | Comment

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