Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Violent Hermit Kingdom

One thing which bothers me about a lot of coverage of North Korea is the insistence on covering Kim Jong-Il's eccentricities which, whilst amusing, are really an obfuscation of what's going on inside at the moment.  Whilst I'm not expecting every news story to be a harbinger of the end times, it's worth reflecting on the situation in the DPRK. The Chosunilbo, for instance, last year published this story on Kim Jong-Un's brutal consolidation of power during his succession:

Economic officials have also purged. Pak Nam-gi, director of the Planning and Finance Department in the Workers Party, and Moon Il-bong, head of finance, were executed by firing squad in April and June last year. Hong Sok-hyong, who succeeded Pak, was relieved of all of his duties in June and his whereabouts are unknown. Ex-minister of railways Kim Yong-sam was executed in June of last year after being linked to a massive explosion in Ryongchon in 2004 that is believed to have been a botched attack on Kim Jong-il's armored train.
Key intelligence and public security officials have also disappeared while the succession was being assured. Ryu Kyong, the deputy director of the State Security Department, was shot early this year as he was considered a rival to Jang. Ju Sang-song, the minister of People's Security, was fired in March of this year. "Those considered as obstacles to Kim Jong-un are being removed," a source said. "Another bloody purge is likely after the period of mourning for Kim Jong-il ends." 
38 North, meanwhile, has a lengthy piece on the possibility of human rights reform in North Korea. In a nutshell? Don't hold your breath:
Even assuming Kim Jong Un were inclined to promote change (a very big unknown), could he do it? He is surrounded by his father’s advisers and hard line repression continues while he consolidates his authority. As one expert put it, Kim Jong Un will not be able “to depart from his father’s legacy until he has fully established himself as the new ruler.” But “the longer he spends strengthening his position based on the same system of brutal repression, the less of a chance he will have to break away.” Arrests and purges have accompanied his ascension to power, reinforced by the support of those in the military, party and elite who stand to benefit from the regime’s continuation.
A minefield. Outside, Western pressure seems fruitless as well - since the North Koreans, like all Stalinist dictatorships, see human rights as some imperialist plot. How do you pressure human rights reform on a regime which will sooner see its people starve than abandon its ideology of economic and political self-sufficiency (read: isolation) and which doesn't even pay lip service to the idea of human rights?

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