Korea: The Odd Just Got Odder

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September11, 2008:  Sometime last month, northern leader Kim Jong Il had a stroke, and underwent surgery. He is apparently recovering, but there is renewed interest in who, or what, would take over if Kim Jong Il died. He has three sons ( 37 year-old Kim Jong Nam, 27 year-old Kim Jong Chol, and 24 year old Kim Jong Un, 24). The two older sons are considered too weak or corrupt to take over, but the youngest is believed to be, well, too young. There are several factions interested in taking over, but 60 years of police state rule has brutally discouraged new national leaders from developing. Even the Chinese are uncertain of who the new leadership would be, although there have been lots of rumors about China supporting a Communist Party faction dedicated to economic reform using the Chinese model.

North Korea is facing another major famine, with the potential for killing a million or more people. The government does not appear to be overly concerned, and foreigners are perplexed at this lack of urgency. North Korean officials do seem more concerned with their personal wealth and power, and ability to avoid the communists purists in the state security organizations. It's very strange up there.

North Korea has built a second ICBM launch site. It is on the west coast and about 80 percent complete. Meanwhile, North Korea refuses to allow verification that it is really dismantling its nuclear weapons program (in return for economic and food aid.) North Korea insists that they be taken off the "supporter of terrorism" list before it allows verification. The U.S. won't do this.

September 5, 2008: Only a few percent of North Koreans have seen South Korean television (which is shocking to the northerners, who have been raised to believe that the southerners were worse off.) But what is doing the most damage to northern morale is the spread of DVRs and DVD players. Cheap ones from China are smuggled in and secretly sold. If caught with any of this illegal media (North Korean radios and TVs are built to receive only a few government controlled channels), you go to prison camp, or are executed. Modifying radios or TVs to receive South Korean, Chinese or Russian channels also gets you in big trouble.

September 2, 2008: The UN is putting together a half billion dollar famine relief effort, to reach 6.2 million North Koreans faced with starvation. The U.S. is the largest contributor, and North Korea has agreed to allow 59 foreign officials to supervise distribution of the food. Some of the foreigners will be allowed to deal directly with North Koreans, in Korean. The foreigners are finding that, for government officials, control over food is the path to wealth and power. This is why the North Korean government has resisted foreign supervision of what happens to the food once it entered North Korea. The fact (and photos to prove it) is that some of this food is exported and sold in China. More of the food goes to the military, and the food that goes to the starving is allocated to provinces that have the most powerful officials, not the largest number of starving people.

 

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