CHESTER HAS MOVED!: North Korea, continued . . .

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

North Korea, continued . . .

Thanks to Alert Reader "Adam" for pointing our attention to today's story on what is happening in North Korea in the International Herald Tribune. Lots of interesting bits here:
"As long as Chairman Kim Jong Il controls the government, we have to negotiate with him, but it is becoming more doubtful whether we will be able to achieve anything with this government," Shinzo Abe, acting secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, said on Fuji TV on Sunday, referring to talks on North Korea's abductions of Japanese in the 1970s. "I think we should consider the possibility that a regime change will occur, and we need to start simulations of what we should do at that time."
This is huge! A major Japanese politician speaks about regime change in NK! Wow! Note that he doesn't say what the agent of the regime change will be, just that it could happen. More:
There are indications that news is leaking out of North Korea by cellphone and that criticisms of the government are being posted in public places. Those developments and the angry response to recent legislation in the United States intended to flood the country with radios that can pick up foreign broadcasts suggest that the leadership realizes its one great achievement - near total information control - is threatened. Persistent reports that anti-Kim leaflets and posters have recently appeared gained more credibility with the publication Thursday in Sankei Shimbun, a conservative Tokyo newspaper, of what was described as a photograph of a handprinted flier smuggled out of North Korea. . .
Read more about the leaflets here. More:
"Some residents have contacts with people in neighboring countries by hiding mobile phones in places with good reception, like tall buildings and hilltops," said a North Korean document photographed by a Japanese aid group that calls itself "Rescue the North Korean People Urgent Action Network." The group said the directive was published by the governing Workers Party of North Korea in November 2003. . . Analysts say they have seen more high-level defections recently, possibly a result of more permeable borders and greater dissatisfaction. In Seoul, an editor at Monthly Chosun, a magazine that follows North Korean affairs, said in an interview that when he was in northern China this year, Chinese officials showed him North Korean "wanted posters" for generals who had managed to reach China with their families. The editor, who asked not to be identified, estimated that in recent years, 130 North Korean generals had defected to China, about 10 percent of the military elite. Of this group, the most significant, he said, are four who have been integrated into active duty with the Chinese military in the Shenyang district, along the Korean border.
We have glimpses here into a strange world that the western mind can barely fathom. There is much to make of all of this. Let us speculate: China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and the US all have a stake in North Korea not having nuclear weapons. All also have a stake in seeing North Korea open its borders to trade and information. China, South Korea, Russia, and maybe Japan have a stake in North Korea not dissolving on their borders. How can we resolve these many mutual interests? Some questions: Could China foment a coup in North Korea? Could they do so either by inducing the NK military to rebel against Kim, or by even participating themselves? Could they install the NK Generals in a new regime? Could the co-opted Generals (those who haven't defected) retain control of the nuclear program? What's in it for China: A new client state that is not a democracy but on which the Chinese can use their influence. They can force the new regime to open its markets to trade and information. The new regime could liberalize in the same way China has: slowly and over a long period of time, rather than immediately (like Eastern Europe), which is much more destabilizing. China would then have an open trading partner that is militarily powerful vs. the clients of the US (ROK, Japan). It increases the Chinese sphere of influence. China now has another state that is formerly communist, not a real democracy, but slowly liberalizing, and trading with China. Good for China. What's in it for the Generals: They get to gain power. They don't have to be ruled by a looney. They can visit abroad and get western goods and info. What's in it for the US (if we're even told about it): If the Chinese can guarantee via the NK generals the whereabouts, dispostion, and control of the NK nukes, and NK can then open up slowly without being a huge threat anymore, this is good for America. What's in it for ROK (if they're in on it): Get to open the North and change the regime without seeing Seoul go up in flames. DOn't have to worry about super-speedy reunification a la Germany, which would seriously drag their economy (think: The average NK peasant has no concept of capitalism, except that it is evil -- it will take decades to change this, however it happens). What's in it for Japan: Get to see NK no longer a threat, but Korean peninsula not united either. Good for Japan. For Russia: No vast waves of refugees flowing over the border. Is this possible? The multiparty talks on NK mean that reps of these countries are seriously focused on NK. Could China pull it off? The two key factors are: 1. The nukes: who controls them? how quickly can they be employed? 2. The Generals: how many of those that haven't defected would overthrow Kim? Familiarity breeds contempt. He is not a nice guy. Ever see a John Woo film that ends with a Mexican standoff in a chapel -- like "Face Off"? Here is where we find ourselves, but on a regional scale. [Japan was the focus of Chester's undergraduate degree. He holds a minor in Japanese and has lived there for extended periods and traveled extensively throughout the country. Hopefully he brings a little more to the table than the average journalist when it comes to speculating on East Asian security. But disagree to your heart's content in the comments section.]


Blogger Brian H said...

What's to disagree with? Informed speculation, gratefully received. And absolutely fascinating events. If those radios ever go in there . . . . I wonder, are they the wind-up kind, that don't require batteries? What a great use for those.

Reminds me of my solution for Iran: airdrop crates of Uzis and ammo over major population centers, and let the residents take care of the mullahs and the bully boys. :)

December 1, 2004 at 8:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


My favorite town in Japan is Tsuwano. Ever make it there? They call it Little Kyoto. There's some great history out of that place.

December 1, 2004 at 11:04 PM  
Blogger Tamquam Leo Rugiens said...

Undoubtedly China will attempt, and likely succeed, in holding NK as a client state, I doubt if they would replace the Communist Party there, just give it Chinese characteristics a la Deng Xioaping (sp). I doubt that China is in any hurry to lose their buddy Kim, he has and contimues to serve them well in a variety of ways, including weapons proliferation. Whether NK falls or stands as outlinded above, Japan is still under threat, don't underestimate China's determintation to bring the whole area into their sphere of influence, nor the resentment (something of which they have a surfeit; forgiveness and tolerance are peculiarly Western values) of Japan's aggression in the 1930's and 1940's. Do not be misled into thinking that China's economic liberalization is a doorway to a wider social and political liberalization. It is a necessary modernization of the economy designed to strengthen the military as a precondition for expanding it's sphere of influence; Taiwan is only another step (albeit a big one), not the first nor the last. Chinese saber rattling is less theater than we think.

December 2, 2004 at 6:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couldn't a case be made that Kim is already gone? Just think, if he has been replaced by some kind of military junta, what would the next step be? Wouly you announce to a brainwashed and brow-beaten citizenry that their god-king had just been deposed? Think of the humanitarian disaster that could spawn and the potential for total chaos. Likewise, if you were about to replace Kim, would you start taking down his posters beforehand? No way! You'd only start taking those steps after your coup had succeeded. But once it succeeded, it would be time to consolidate power, carefully replace all those less than loyal to the new regime, and prepare for a calm, carefully constructed myth that would explain why Kim was no longer and why the government was still firmly in charge. Given the degree of repression the North Korean people have lived under for so long, simply announcing Kim's departure, with no carefully constructed plan for maintaining order, would result in the kind of uncontrolled chaos that we saw in Iraq. China, likely the leading force in the removal of Kim, would do everything in its power to ensure a transition to a new military junta went as peacefully as orderly as possible. I believe that process is underway as we speak.

December 2, 2004 at 8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I posted a comment earlier about Japan's armament above and acknowledge, respectfully, Chester's considerable experience.

So to further insult your intelligence, Chester, ( ;-) ) I agree with Tamquam Leo Rugiens in that China's transformation looks vaguely like Japan's Meiji Restoration: modernization and faint liberalization for the sake of empowering an authoritarian regime.

December 3, 2004 at 10:48 AM  

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