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
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.
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.
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.