Its been ages since I wrote anything on this site. But Korea is getting even more interesting than usual, so its about time I updated things a little. Kim Jong-il is of course dead, and no-one knows what is coming next. Over the next few days and weeks, expect to see a whole army of talking heads telling you what’s going to happen to North Korea; the thing to remember though is that nobody has the slightest clue. Even Kim Jong-eun himself.
We all have our theories though. My own view is that in the short term, we’ll see absolutely no difference. NK will continue to be run in a completely secretive fashion, and whatever goes on behind closed doors will stay behind closed doors. I don’t think there will be any quick collapse, revolt, or anything like that. There will be a need for everyone up there to demonstrate loyalty to Kim Jong-eun, even if privately, some will just be biding their time. In the medium term (ie. 6 months – 1 year) though, there could be some sort of power struggle. A quiet power struggle, conducted and concluded behind closed doors.
Kim Jong-eun lacks experience, legitimacy, and everything else required to rule. But what he does have is a name, and the short-term reins of a system built around his father/grandfather, and held together by fear. And for now, he has Jang Song-taek/Kim Kyung-hee behind him. China will also support his rule, in so far as it furthers Beijing’s interests. There are also many elite officials and military officers who will not want upheaval, since they are doing just fine under the current system.
China also wants to see as little political upheaval as possible, but does hope for Deng Xiaoping-type economic reforms from North Korea. Now NK is in transition, Beijing will have more opportunity to influence things. Can North Korea become like China, a politically authoritarian, capitalist state?
The US can influence things too, by extending an olive branch. Relations had been improving recently anyway, but Kim Jong-eun (and his ‘regents’) may lash out if they feel threatened at this point. If Jang Song-taek is reform-minded in the way that some say he is, a positive gesture by the US may be a good thing. Also, it would help reduce the influence of China, the most important stumbling block for potential reunification.