Category Archive: Succession

Dec 18

Kim Jong-Il dead at 69.

You heard it here last – Dear Leader and Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, Marshall Kim Jong-Il died early Monday according to state-run television KCNA.

He apparently died on his private train, due to “physical and mental overwork”. Heart complications on his usual “on-the-spot guidance” tours are to blame. It will be fascinating to see what the weeks ahead hold for the DPRK: The crash succession of Kim Jong-Un, potential power struggles, glorification and state funeral arrangements, and the future of foreign policy to the reclusive state.

More to come…

Source: BBC News | Associated Press

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/1031

Jul 08

Kim Jong-Un alleged to have undergone 6 plastic surgery procedures to resemble granddad.

Kim Pyong-ilRumours of the future leader of North Korea’s supposed plastic surgeries were rampant from the moment he was revealed to the world last September. While there’s really no new evidence now, the speculation has been spreading through the media outlets lately. Why? According to the Chosun Ilbo, half brother and once a potential threat to Kim Jong-Il’s succession to leadership, Kim Pyong-Il (the guy in the hat) has been placed under house arrest as well. Purportedly, Pyong-Il has a closer resemblance to the deceased Great Leader Kim Il-Sung, a figure still well respected in North Korean hearts and minds despite a quiet resentment for his son, Kim Jong-Il. The idea behind the surgeries according to the president of Open Radio for North Korea:

"Half the procedures were designed to make his face resemble Kim Il-sung and half were intended to give him the same profile.”

There’s another thing that makes people resemble other people: genetics. However, former personal sushi chef to Kim Jong-Il, Kenji Fujimoto had stated that the Jong-Un revealed to the world last year does not resemble the precocious teenager he recalled from his time there. If true about the surgery, they did a pretty good job. Wonder if those surgeons are still around today?

Source: Open Radio for North Korea / Sydney Morning Herald

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/864

May 30

Kim Jong-Il’s week-long whirlwind tour of China a lesson in economic reform.

Kim Jong-Il shakes hands in Beijing with Chinese President Hu Jintao

The big story of the past week was North Korean leader’ Kim Jong-Il’s sudden and long visit to China. As is his M.O., Kim travelled by private armored car. The trip was unannounced and caused rampant speculation among Pyongyang-observers that the occupant was actually leader-to-be Kim Jong-Un, off to meet Chinese leadership in much the same was his father prepared for succession in 1983.  China officially announced that Kim Jong-Il was in the country, but was secretive about his agenda and whereabouts. KCNA, North Korea’s state-run media outlet,  also made the rare move of publishing that the Dear Leader was in China—such announcements are usually not made until he is safely returned home.

imageKim travelled with an entourage of 70 senior officials, including de facto second-in-command Jang Song-Thaek, and Kim Jong-Il’s fourth wife, Kim Ok (pictured). The trip seemed entirely economic based, and possibly set up to be a crash course on Chinese economic reform that the Chinese have been pushing North Korea towards for years.

 

Here’s the rough summary of the events over the 7 day and over 6000km trip:

  • Kim Jong-Il’s armored train crosses border at Chinese city of Tumen at 6:20AM local time.
  • Changchun – Kim does an inspection trip to automobile manufacturing plant.
  • Mudanjiang City – Kim visits a site honouring his father, Kim Il-Sung for his guerilla efforts against the Japanese.
  • Mudanjiang City – A welcome party is held for Kim and entourage, with Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo as host.
  • Yangzhou – Kim tours an economic development zone.
  • Yangzhou – Kim stays in a luxurious state guesthouse.
  • Yangzhou – Dinner & theatre with former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, of which both Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il have had good relations with.
  • Nanjing – Kim Jong-Il visits a Panda Electronics store.
  • Beijing – Kim Jong-Il and Chinese leader Hu Jintao meet for a summit.
  • Beijing – Kim demonstrates a desire to return to Six Party Talks aimed at dunuclearizing Korea.
  • Beijing – Kim notes for the third time (and on his third trip to China in a year) the desire for strong relations between the countries to be passed to the "younger generations".
  • Beijing – Hu issued a 5 step proposal that can basically be summed up: increase communication between the two countries, and the support and cooperationg between DPRK and China can continue, and cooperation on crucial international and regional issues (ie. stop attacking the South).
  • Beijing – Kim invites Hu to North Korea, which is accepted.
  • Beijing – A banquet is held in honour of Kim.
  • Beijing – Kim’s train departs Beijing on Thursday at 2:00PM.
  • Dandong – Kim returns to North Korea by train, and is welcomed at the border by son Kim Jong-Un, sister Kim Kyonng-Hui and other senior officials.

It seems to me that there was a lot of empty agreement coming from the North on opening up with economic reforms. In turn, China seemingly didn’t make any multi-billion dollar commitments to the North either, which is likely what the DPRK Leader was hoping for. Groundbreaking ceremonies were set to kick off May 24th for the Hwanggumpyong joint econonomic zone (discussed earlier) on the Yalu river bordering the two countries, as well as for new development projects in the Northeastern Rason economic zone. However, these ceremonies were cancelled and I’m unable to discover whether these plans are simply on hold or headed to another fate.

The full details of the tour are best described by the North Korea Leadership Watch blog. The coverage includes candid photos, charted routes overlaid on Google Earth and other great detail from all the right sources, including Yonhap, The Chosun Ilbo, Xinhua, DailyNK, the Hankoryeh, and more. Start here and work your way through, if interested.

Source: North Korea Leadership Watch

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/835

May 19

Kim Jong-Il is looking a lot healthier these days.

Before and After

You’re looking at a side-by-side comparison provided by Yonhap News with images provided by NK state-run media outlet KCNA. On the left is a Kim Jong-Il, during former US President Bill Clinton’s visit to Pyongyang to secure the release of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee. On the right, we have Kim Jong-Il with a Russian delegation taken just two days ago. As you can see, Kim looks a lot less emaciated and is clearly bouncing back from his 2008 stroke which many speculated meant the inevitable demise of the Dear Leader. Notable on the right are Kim’s heeled shoes (which we’ve talked about before) that might demonstrate that he is recovering gradually and will likely not be abdicating the throne anytime soon.

Source: The Chosun Ilbo (courtesy of LiberateLaura on Twitter)

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/829

May 17

The Emperor’s new (old) shoes; Kim Jong-Il back in heels, a sign of improving health?

The North Korean leader was photographed and displayed on state-run media outlet KCNA wearing his famous heeled shoes. Kim Jong-Il has been wearing regular flat-bottom shoes in his public appearances since his 2008 stroke, leading many to speculate that the ‘ailing’ leader’s health is actually improving. The heels help give the leader a noticeable boost in height, an aesthetic boost to enforce the personality cult surrounding the otherwise 5’3” Dear Leader.

A report from past December also suggested that he was finally recovering use of portions body after the stroke. KCNA released video analyzed by Chosun Ilbo that seemed to demonstrate Kim using his left arm to slide open a door. His left arm is seen usually hanging limp at his side in virtually every image taken of him since the stroke. Perhaps the succession of power to son Kim Jong-Un will have more time to gestate after all?

Source: Yonhap / Chosun Ilbo

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/827

Apr 11

News in brief + a brief hiatus

Kim Jong-Un doesn’t get a promotion at Supreme People’s Assembly

The Supreme People’s Assembly, constitutionally the most powerful entity in North Korea but in reality a rubber steam parliament for the Korean Worker’s Party under Kim Jong-Il, has convened its first meeting of 2011. Many Pyongyang watchers suspected the SPA would be used as on opportunity to bolster the rank of leader-to-be Kim Jong-Un. Neither Jong-Un or his father Kim Jong-Il were in attendance.

Source: North Korea Leadership Watch

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North Koreans in Libya ordered to stay put

As countries around the world scramble to evacuate their citizens from the chaotic anti-regime uprisings in Libya, North Korea has sent a different message to its own people in the country: Stay there. Pyongyang via their Libyan embassy has ordered the 200+ North Koreans abroad in Libya, likely living there to earn foreign currency to send home, to “follow the measures of the Libyan [Gadhafi] government”. The North Koreans being denied permission to return home has led to speculation that the Kim regime is attempting to quell the spread of information back home regarding the revolutions and uprisings occurring in the Middle East.

Source: Yonhap News

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North Korea pulls out of Hyundai resort tourism

The Mt. Kumgang resort, a joint tourism project between Seoul-based Hyundai Asan and the North Korean government, saw over a million South Korean tourists pass through since 1998. However, 2008 the shooting death  of a South Korean tourist by a DPRK soldier has had the tours suspended since. Hyundai has paid for much of the facilities and infrastructure at the resort, but now the North has backed out of the agreement between the government and Hyundai Asan. Hyundai had an agreement forged in 2002 giving them land use rights in the majestic mountain region until 2052, but this appears to be a renege on the agreement. The move is seen as a possible ploy by the North to force Hyundai to resume tours (without the condition of allowing a murder investigation for the SK tourism), or encourage Chinese tourism to the resort.

Source: The Chosun Ilbo

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On a side note, I’ll be on vacation for awhile, thus incommunicado and not updating this space. Will get right back to it in a couple of weeks, meanwhile I’ll be catching up on some reading on a sunny beach in Cayo Guillermo.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/812

Mar 24

Nine NK refugees arrive in South Korea; Jimmy Carter returning to Pyongyang

Two unrelated stories, but light enough on details to keep to one post.

Jimmy Carter returning to Pyongyang for talks with other former world leaders

A delegation formed by “The Elders”, a group of former world leaders whose mission statement is to promote peace and address human suffering will apparently be visiting Pyongyang next month. Details are sparse and are only sourced to “diplomatic sources in Seoul”. The delegation is alleged to consist of (nabbed from Wikipedia):

Quite a team! No word on their exact objectives or itinerary. More details will follow as they become available. Jimmy Carter, of course, is known for his diplomatic efforts diffusing the North Korean nuclear crisis in the early 90s. More recently, he travelled to Pyongyang to secure the release of Aijalon Gomes, and expected to meet Kim Jong-Il who instead took an impromptu trip to China (possibly to secure Chinese backing of DPRK leadership succession to his son, announced a few weeks later).

Source: Yonhap News

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Nine North Korean refugees arrive by boat in South Korea

This is a developing story with very few details. May be several days before we hear anything new about these would-be defectors. An unnamed official is quoted as saying the following:

"The Coast Guard is investigating nine North Koreans who claimed to be refugees. They arrived late Thursday at the port of Gunsan after crossing the Yellow Sea (from China)"

All North Korean defectors are interrogated and investigated when entering South Korea. This serves as a wise precaution, as the strategy of deploying North Korean spies in the South by having them pretend to be defectors has occurred in the past. Given the heroic entry from China’s Yellow Sea, hopefully they are Koreans fleeing a bad situation for a better life in the South.

Source: Yonhap News

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/794

Feb 25

Why North Korea isn’t going to overthrow its dictatorship anytime soon

mansudae

I’m going to share a somewhat longwinded rant that I posted on the news aggregation website Reddit. A number of popular posts were excitedly discussing the possibility of revolution in North Korea, while basing most of their claims on wild speculation and sometimes outright false information.

One of the top stories in /r/WorldNews, with over 1500 comments is the hype surrounding a certain article that citizens in North Korea are staging unprecedented public protests against the Kim Jong-Il regime. The original article is here: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/MB25Dg01.html

The Asia Times article cites most of its information from the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s most popular newspaper. I can’t find the article they speak of, but there’s plenty of alternative stories on the English Chosun site. This SK professor makes some good points:

  • Discontent: It’s been a harsh winter, and North Koreans are once again very hungry. Rations aren’t being distributed properly, because the international food aid on which the country has been dependent for decades is all sparse. What does come through is coming from China, and is primarily reserved for the military and the elite.
  • Easier access to information: Word is getting out about just how deplorable the North Korean situation really is to its citizens. Cellphones are becoming more widespread, though strictly compartmentalized with no outside access. People close to the SK or Chinese borders are sometimes able to get a signal from those countries and communicate with the outside world. South Korean television shows and anti-regime propaganda videos are finding their way into peoples hands.
  • Chinese influence: Information is exchanged during trading sessions. I wouldn’t put too much stock in this information spreading quickly or very far.

First let me get into a little bit about how North Korean society is structured. Pyongyang, the capital, is where most of the elite and those most loyal to the party can live. It is considered a great reward to be moved from one of the provinces into the capital. They get first dibs on pretty much everything. A far cry from the luxuries we take for granted, but idyllic in the eyes of most North Koreans.

Flattery will get you everywhere in the DPRK. Young people aspire to serve in the military, for a 10 year period, just for the shot at getting a good job and becoming a party member. Anything you say against the regime will very likely put you into a labour camp. Once you’ve served time in the labour camp, you’ll either die or get shipped to one of the crummier provinces, never to rise in rank again. It really doesn’t take much for this to happen. Almost all military defectors in South Korea have done so because they realized their "careers" were in ruins for good. The Kim Jong-Il regime, like his father’s (Kim Il-Sung) before him, doesn’t take any shit.

I’m sure every Redditor has read George Orwell’s 1984. Kids ratting out their parents. Neighbours throwing neighbours under the bus for an offhand comment, or something trivial such as not dusting the portraits of the Great and Dear leaders in their households. Spies are literally everywhere in North Korea, and for the most part, people are absolutely terrified to speak out. So they put on a smile and continue worshipping the Kim personality cult. When you get in trouble, typically your entire family goes with you, effectively "purging the bad blood". Many North Koreans fear more for their families lives than their own, so behave accordingly. It is truly a dictatorship based on fear.

Still there is a fierce nationalism in the country. From birth, North Koreans are taught to hate the USA and Japan. To a lesser degree, South Koreans, but in that case mostly just the "puppet" capitalist government that they teach is the cause of the North’s repression. The North is a mountainous region with many natural resources, but difficulty growing their own crops. The South is plentiful in farmland and food, but imports most of their natural resources. Korean reunification has been the ultimate goal since the end of World War II, or so either side would have their citizens believe. They would be a powerhouse if they could reunite, and the American military is blamed for keeping them divided. China props up the DPRK because they too are resentful of the strategic military positions the Americans have on the Korea peninsula. This was Kim Il-Sung’s goal, and all of the shortfalls in North Korean history are said to be an ongoing battle in a long running revolution for Korean supremacy.

Here’s another article about one of the protests in Sinuju, a border town near China. The protests were sparked by police cracking down on markets, which are typically ignored but technically illegal in the country. Many count on these markets to survive, as they are not receiving food from the state as they’re supposed to. When the police crack down on these markets, and there are no alternatives to food, people get understandably angry. But the protests were quelled pretty quickly. People were probably killed and injured. Many others and their families probably trucked off to labour camps never to be heard from again.

That being said, sometimes protests are allowed to happen. DPRK attempted a grand currency reform in late 2009 which screwed a great deal of the population out of any money they had in their savings accounts. Since Kim Jong-Il’s songun or military first politics are centered around strengthening their forces, the people can be convinced that the poor economic decision was the result of poor high level decision making outside of Kim’s scope. Demonstrations were held, citizens were not punished. The regime said "yes, this was a mistake, and now were are executing the people responsible", and that’s what happened.

When Kim Il-Sung had tapped his son to be successor, party members loyalties were put to the test. Many adored Kim Sr. but questioned the leadership capabilities of his reckless son. Thus, a lot of purging occurred where dissenting party members were executed or demoted, and key supporters were put in the vacant positions. Much of the leadership of North Korea are directly related to the Kim family, or to the original families that fought alongside Kim Il-Sung’s guerilla struggles against Japan (which he is largely lauded for achieving Korean independance, though history indicates his true impact was minimal). Kim Jong-Il is getting old and his health is questionable, and so in turn he is propping up his son, Kim Jong-Un for succession. This means a whole new round of purges, a tighter crackdown on defectors and malcontents, and more credit to Kim Jong-Un for anything nice that happens in North Korea. Jong-Un is allegedly to continue his father’s military-first policy, but is also being heralded as brining about the dawn of "CNC" or Computer Numerical Control– basically the automation of manufcaturing the improve the quality of lives of North Koreans. Part of this is the distribution of cellphones, computers and digital technology, though obviously cut off from the rest of the world.

South Korea’s just as in the dark about North Korea as the rest of the world. Yes, the SK government marked Kim Jong-Il’s birthday on the 14th by launching propaganda balloons filled with anti-regime pamphlets, shortwave radios, DVDs, etc. This is nothing new and will not bring about a revolution. South Korea has been launching these balloon propaganda campaigns for decades. It wouldn’t surprise me if North Koreans, seeing these balloons heading for their town don’t go into their houses and shut the doors. If you find a balloon, you must turn it over to the authourities. If you read the contents you will be punished. If you keep what’s in it, you’ll be punished. If you see someone else reading the material and don’t report them, you will be punished.

Here’s another article from the Korea Times about how Seoul has stated that there are no signs that the North Koreans are staging widescale protests. The protests are small, and localized, and have no chance of growing beyond that. People are not allowed to travel between provinces at will, and there are military checkpoints all over the country.

Sorry for this long-winded rant. In a nutshell, North Koreans can’t revolt because they lack the ability to organize. There are no mass communication tools available to them. There is a great fear of repression from the authourities. The only real opportunity for change in North Korea will be the death of Kim Jong-Il, and this must happen sooner rather than later, or Kim Jong-Un’s grip will become as strong as his father’s. The coup would happen at a high military level, and as I mentioned before, many of these people are family to the Kim dynasty. I’m going to stop now, I could probably go on for hours.

Source: Reddit.com

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/783

Feb 18

Kim Jong-Chol’s wild week in Singapore

Kim Jong-Chol, the 30 year-old second son of Kim Jong-Il and older brother to Kim Jong-Un was spotted at an Eric Clapton concert in Singapore earlier this week. Kim’s fandom for Clapton is arguably his most famous trait, making headlines in 2006 when he attended a concert as well. This was even a discussion point in one of the diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, where the US embassy in Seoul tossed around the idea of endorsing an Eric Clapton concert in Pyongyang for Jong-Chol in order to improve relations between the countries. Jong-Chol was at one point suspected to be the favourite for succession of leadership.

Kim and his entourage stayed at the 5 star Pan Pacific Hotel. He was there with a girl believed to be either his girlfriend or his wife. They visited a waterpark, Universal Studios and did some shopping. Jong-Chol also purchased several souvenirs at the concert, and was well protected by bodyguards,  who attempted to block cameras from taking photos of the young prince.

Kim Jong-chol (marked by a red arrow), and a woman believed to be his wife watch an Eric Clapton concert in Singapore on Monday in this photo obtained by the Chosun Ilbo from a North Korean source.

Source: The Chosun Ilbo

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/778

Feb 16

Kim Jong-Il’s 69th birthday bash

February 16th marks Kim Jong-Il’s 69th birthday, a national holiday for North Korea. Lavish events are planned and underway for the entire week, including synchronized swimming performances, film airings, lantern hangings and parades. Traditionally on the birthdays of the Dear Leader and his father Kim Il-Sung, gift bags are given out to citizens that often comprise of candies, trinkets and foodstuffs. However, reports indicate that some provinces did not receive gifts this year, likely due to food and money shortages and a particularly harsh winter. North Koreans not receiving gifts are therefore often indifferent towards the holiday.

In South Korea, activists had a present for Kim Jong-Il too: 100,000 anti-regime leaflets launched from balloons that will float into the North and spread information criticizing the North Korean regime and the 3rd generation succession process. Citizens are generally not allowed to read the pamphlets attached to these balloons, and are required by law to turn them over to authorities as well as report anyone else who finds or reads one.

One North Korean citizen made the extremely daring move to defect to South Korea on the same date. The man avoided guards and walked across the heavily defended demilitarized zone, walking 4 kilometres across a minefield. He was seized by South Korean border guards and interrogated; I’ll post more about this if more details are provided in the future. Most regard walking through the DMZ to be a death sentence, with millions of mines deployed all over. The traditional defection route is to cross the much less guarded Chinese border to the north, and get to South Korea through alternative means.

Here’s a video of the synchronized swimming for KJI’s birthday bash from North Korea’s official Youtube page. The song is “Footsteps”, an anthem idolizing future leader Kim Jong-Un.

Source: DailyNK / Guardian

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/777

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