October 15, 2010:
North Korean police have been unable to halt the growing defacing of posters praising newly proclaimed heir Kim Jong Un. He has been nicknamed "piglet", as recent official photos show a very well fed young man, who looks like his father did during the Great Famine of the 1990s. Back then, daddy Kim Jong Il was conspicuously corpulent when millions of North Koreans were dying of starvation. As another major famine looms, the image reappears, in the form of the even chubbier younger Kim. These defacements are scary, as police have been ordered to be more energetic in catching the vandals, and to apply more vigorous punishment (a severe beating, followed by a trip, often one-way, to a labor camp).
The latest UN estimates are that the Fall harvest in North Korea (which should be 7 million tons of grain), will come in 22 percent short. Imports have only covered 300,000 tons of the 1.9 million ton shortfall. North Korea is making nice to the south at the moment, apparently in the hope of getting a large food gift. That is not a sure thing, as North Korea is still gloating over their sinking of a South Korean corvette earlier this year, and seem likely to divert any major food aid to the military, or Chinese markets for cash. North Korea is believed to have about a million tons of grain in reserve, most of it earmarked for the military and security agencies.
To make matters worse North Korea declared special food bonuses for their secret police and special operations troops. The latter force has been increased from 120,000 to 200,000 in the past four years, and these guys have to be well fed, and kept loyal, to be effective. Foreign food donors have seen these diversions before, and understand that the North Korean government, as a communist police state, will look after its own interests first and make sure the security forces are well fed. This year, in honor of the selection of an heir (Kim Jong Un), workers in weapons plants and research facilities are also getting a food bonus.
The oldest son of Kim Jong Il, 38 year old Kim Jong Nam, has been placed under the protection of the Chinese government. Kim Jong Nam used to be the heir apparent, but grew disenchanted at the situation in North Korea, and went into exile in China a decade ago. Apparently he also considered fleeing to the West, but retained enough loyalty to his father to abandon that plan. But the oldest son has remained a critic of the horrific government in North Korea, and apparently the Chinese keep him around as a potential replacement for the Kims that are currently in charge. That's an ancient custom, and there's not much Kim Jong Il can do about it. Apparently heir Kim Jong Un did make some moves to silence his elder brother (who opposes the family succession form of dictatorship), but was warned off by the Chinese and his father.
Kim Jong Nam isn't the only North Korea notable unhappy with the succession plan. Only about ten percent of the expected delegates showed up at the session where the Party Delegates Conference anointed the succession last month. It is believed only those whose loyalty was certain were invited. Thus Kim Jong Il considers the majority of the senior people in the government to be suspect. There is considerable doubt throughout Korea that the old timers who make North Korea work (such as it is) will really back Kim Jong Un if his father dies. And daddy does not look well at all. These hurried preparations to have Kim Jong Un officially recognized as the heir, while still in his 20s, seem desperate, or just aware that Kim Jong Il hasn't got much longer to live and this is his final fantasy.
Meanwhile, in the south, preparations are now under way to set up procedures for trying North Korean leaders for crimes against humanity, once the North Korean government collapses. At the moment, it appears that, in the worst case (collapse and chaos in the north), China would step in, and fire on any South Korean troops moving north. The North Korean government, in anticipation of Kim Jong Il dying sooner, rather than later, has ordered the security forces to increase pressure on "disloyal elements." This is difficult, as, despite the increased number of arrests (and the labor camp population and outright executions), there is growing corruption, and disloyal talk (and defacement of posters with traitorous remarks.)
October 10, 2010: North Korea held one of its largest military parades ever, apparently in honor of the new heir, Kim Jong Un. The parade was officially to honor the 65th anniversary of communist government in North Korea.
October 1, 2010: North Korea allowed another round of family reunions (of people separated by the division of Korea in 1945 and the 1950-3 war). Now North Korea expects some kind of favor from South Korea, where the reunions are a big deal. In the north, the first official photos of heir Kim Jong Un were released. These pictures showed a fat young guy who does not appear very confident. Not exactly inspiring, and graffiti is already appearing in the north, referring to the heir as "piglet."