Is Kim losing control?
The Christian Science Monitor details some interesting developments in North Korea. Excerpts:
Small signs often portend big changes in closed societies, especially in the secretive court of North Korea's Kim dynasty. Observers are wondering if this is just another mad whim from the palace - like the edicts forbidding women to wear red trousers or to eat hamburgers. Or if, after 3 million deaths from starvation on his watch, Kim Jong Il's star many finally be falling - something suggested by numerous North Korean refugees in recent interviews.and
Interviews with dozens of North Korean refugees in China and South Korea reveal a popular disillusionment with Kim. The refugees blame him and hate him in a way they never hated his father, Kim Il Sung. They suggest he hid the collapse of the economy in the 1980s from his father by feeding him a string of false statistics. People first began starving to death in the 1980s, but Kim Jong Il persuaded his father to accelerate the nuclear-weapons program and inflate the size of the military. Kim Jong Il may have felt vindicated by these policy choices when so many other Communist dictators were swept away after 1989. Yet he barely hung on after his father's death. Refugees speak of plots to assassinate Kim Jong Il in 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1995. In Pyongyang he narrowly escaped an attempt in March 1998 and another in 2001; this year he escaped by minutes an explosion at Ryonchon as his train returned from China.and
By then, even the military and party elites were dying of hunger and Kim had to terrorize the population into submission. In February 1998, troops backed by 150 tanks occupied Songrim where the steel mill had shut down and hundreds of workers had already died of hunger. The troops stayed there for three months, staged public executions, and send hundreds into camps. He staged similar exhibitions of naked power in other key industrial cities, say refugees. Refugees also indicate that opposition has become more open and daring. More and more pamphlets and banners are appearing calling for Kim's overthrow. Almost all refugees report seeing slogans such as "Down with Kim Jong Il" painted on walls, pylons, and railway carriages throughout the country. Statues and murals of the Kims have been defaced, and the halls erected for worship of the Kim family have been burnt down. Some officials have been found killed in their homes. Although the food crisis is easing, with the World Food Program reporting a good harvest for this year, the country remains on the brink of starvation. Kim has survived so far but he is coming under increasing pressure from outside. China has stationed an estimated 30,000 troops on the border and is pressing him to respond to Bush administration's renewed demands that he abandon his nuclear weapons. China's top leader will pay his first visit to both Koreas next year to help bring an end to the stalemate.Can the North Korean regime survive the coming tidal wave of outside information about the world? During the height of the Cold War, when Soviet families would be exposed to the West, they often felt extreme anger at the lies that had been told them about our poverty -- when in fact ours was the highest living standard in the world. What is the disposition of the Chinese forces on the border? Are they merely a border security force or do they have the ability to invade North Korea? If memory serves, they are more than a mere border force. Could the Chinese have them positioned there for humanitarian relief efforts should the regime collapse? There is no reason why humanitarian missions must be US or NATO-led. Such a move by the PRC would give it quite a bit of prestige among world militaries. Perhaps an Alert Reader or two has some more in-depth knowledge of the history of large-scale Chinese military operations beyond their own borders -- like their wars with India for example. Once the floodgates of information increase from a trickle to a waterfall in North Korea, it is difficult to imagine that the regime will be able to survive. We should open North Korea, overtly or otherwise, to the free-flow of information and trade. Information will undermine Kim's regime and trade will allow us to infiltrate it with spies. Regime change in the world's most isolated, fanatical country is entirely possible with not a shot fired, given some creative covert moves. The trick would be to remove the government without completely destabilizing the region -- and losing control of their nukes.