Well first and foremost apologies for my blogging absence. Besides the baby news, the new Year is also bringing me a new job, a new city, and many other changes that will be discussed once I have my head wrapped around things.
That out of the way, time to repeat the big and obvious news I am sure you have heard before coming here…
Apparently he had a heart-attack on Saturday morning, after being weakened and fatigued by extensive travel over the past few days. I, amongst pretty much everyone on this side of the peninsula I’m sure, had an initial “Holy Shit” reaction, the military being put on emergency status as a precaution and the KOSPI taking a near 90 degree plunge down 5% (now recovering to around 3%). Although most would say Dear Leader has been looking better of late, there still was little question that he was not long for this world, so once the pure shock wore off, the reality set in that both sides have been prepared for this and the short term (at least through the official mourning period lasting until the 28th) we probably won’t see any major changes. What we are left with now is uncertainty, as no matter how prepared the governments could be for the death it’s impossible to know just what will happen from here. We’ll have a lot of opinions flying around in the days to weeks ahead, some educated and some not as much so. Here and now, I’ll give some of my brief thoughts (which admittedly likely lie within the latter category of opinions).
1. A sudden death was probably a good thing
One doesn’t have to reach very far to find evidence that Kim Jong-Il wasn’t exactly a sensible, reasonable person. Personally, I am happy that an unexpected heart attack took him from the mortal realm rather than drawn out disease. While it may not have been likely in the first place, it at the very least made certain a “blaze of glory” situation couldn’t happen where a death’s-door Kim ordered a massive attack as a final act. With, hopefully, more intact minds at the helm (with much more to lose) it lessens the possibility of rash action in my mind.
2. Tomorrow will be business as usual for most South Koreans
The president may still have a lot on his hands tomorrow, but for most Koreans, tomorrow will just be Tuesday. They may check the news sites or stock prices a tick more than usual, but otherwise they’ll be more worried about their Christmas plans than planning for an NK attack. One of the odd things about living in this country that you can’t really understand from the outside is that the general populous knows perfectly well that on any given day a shell could have dropped in Seoul and, for the most part, they know that nothing can be done about it so why think about it? This became really clear to me during the Yeongpyeong-do attack last year. Everybody at my work watched the news for an hour or so and when it became apparent the action was finished, went right back to making lesson plans.
3. It all comes down to China
But really, how is that different from any other day? Ever since the South began to take a hard-line stance during the LMB presidency, China has become the main (and near only) prop of the regime. The head of the regime may be gone, but I am certain the power players who make up the body knows just who really pays the bills and keeps them in their positions. I also have no doubt that the first call Saturday morning went to Beijing. The death doesn’t necessarily change the game, but it does force the hand a bit. Where and how China decides to exert pressure will shape the future of North Korea. Once again, that may be the same as any other day, but perhaps now the shaping will become a bit more direct and create some visible change.
In all the uncertainty, I’ve been trying to picture North Korea on December 19th, 2012. First of all, there still will be a North Korea one year from today and the current power structures will be more or less intact. There will have been no large scale conflict and in fact both the outgoing GNP administration and the assume incoming leftist government have been pushing for more open relations and trade with the North, perhaps even a meeting with the Brilliant Comrade is being planned by some. So Kim Jong-un will be the leader of North Korea, but much more in name only as the actual power and decisions will be made up of his Aunt and Uncle as well as other key military and party leaders. By “actual power” I mean these people are where the puppet strings coming from China will be tied and from here will come greater emphasis on Chinese-style economic reforms. As discussed before these reforms have already started, but the speed and scope may widen considerably over the next year. Unmentioned so far are the 22 million people of North Korea, just where will they be? Unfortunately likely little will change for their lives. There will be no mass defections across the border, no uprising, no dancing in the street or toppling of statues. Maybe, just maybe, there will be a little more food in the pot and a bit more heat on during the cold December night. The greatest thing these people might have next year is a tiny bit of hope that things might be improving ever so slightly.
The funniest thing about all of this for me is simply the timing. We are less than two weeks shy of the new year, 2012, the centennial of the birth of Kim Il-Sung, the countries founder. For years Kim Jong Il has been propagating that this would be the year that North Korea would become a great nation, but now he himself couldn’t reach that day. No, North Korea won’t be a great nation in the coming year, but perhaps it will be a better one.
The official state broadcast