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Eureka: Explaining North Korea Eureka: Explaining North Korea
by Jay Gutman
2017-12-13 09:21:08
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North Korea is the most misunderstood country in the world. Why? Let me give a few of the reasons before I engage in a more detailed account of what goes on in North Korea. This article is a bit special. Rather than being written linearly, it will be a sort of question and answer article to get a better grasp of what goes on in North Korea.

Question: Why is North Korea the most misunderstood country in the world?

koria01_400Answer: Few countries are interested in the study of North Korea. The only country really interested in North Korea, South Korea, bans access to information on North Korea. China and Japan have little interest in finding out what goes on in the country other than direct security questions. The South Korean community operates on a intelligence community which values career advancement over gathering quality intelligence on North Korea. Furthermore North Korea stricly monitors visits to the country and discourages serious scholars from visiting the country.

Question: so what's going on in North Korea?

Long stories short. Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea, knew that relying on foreign aid for the survival of his regime would lead to a sad ending. Other Soviet satellites were not aware that counting on the Soviet Union and its financial aid would lead to problems if the Soviet Union failed to provide the aid. Look at what happened in Ceausescu's Romania when the Soviet Union was no longer providing money. But Koreans knew their history. In the 19th century, the Korean monarchy relied heavily on Chinese aid, and when the Chinese monarchy collapsed, Korea could no longer survive financially and was invaded by Japan. So Kim Il Sung set up a system where he would rely as little as possible on foreign aid. Development was inward. To a large extent North Koreans are fed and clothed by what they produce locally.

Now what goes on in North Korea today is traditionally when there's a new leader in Korea the leader has to display power. In South Korea new presidents issue countless Presidential decrees, a lot of which are not very popular but are meant to show who's in charge. In North Korea new leaders use inflamatory rhetoric. The rhetoric is basically a gimmick to impress people inside North Korea, which is the main goal. The idea for Kim Jung Eun is to show North Koreans that he's not afraid of yelling at the South Koreans or the Americans. In fact, in South Korean conglomerates like Samsung or LG, when a new CEO or head is designated, a lot of times he or she will engage in a yelling contest to show who's in charge. Once enough yelling has been done, workers tend to yield in which gives CEOs or head managers a large room to manoeuver or take decisions. Those who are unhappy with the yelling leave, meaning they get to choose who they will designate at strategic positions. The CEO will then yell at outsiders to show that he or she fears nothing and is shameless. This tends to cut nonesense such as workers trying to impress the leader to get that promotion for example.

Question: Does North Korea want war with the United States or with South Korea?

The short answer is no. In fact, what I noticed is that there has been a shift in the language used by North Korea. North Korea seems to have dropped expressions like “American imperialism” or “South Korean puppet government.” They still use those expressions, but a lot less than when Park Geun Hye or Lee Myung Bak were president in South Korea.

Here's what you need to understand. When Kim Il Sung was getting older, he spent a lot of money building gems and handing them as rewards to loyal subordinates, so that they would accept Kim Jung Il as his successor. When Kim Jung Il was getting older, he built even better gems and gave them to loyal subordinates so that they would accept Kim Jung Eun as his successor. So North Korean leaders have loyal subordinates, and we know the fate of those who were not loyal. Kim Jung Eun is trying to keep his subordinates at a distance so he can build a team and decide the fate of his country.

Question: Aren't North Korea worried that excessive actions can lead to war?

North Korea knows what it's doing. In an era where Scotland, Catalunia and other smaller nations are increasingly trying to secede, I think and I hope that by now the South Koreans understand that North Koreans have an identity that is far more distinguished than that of Scotland or Catalunia. North Korea I believe, thanks to its policy on self-reliance, doesn't have huge debts and is not really part of the global financial system. They don't owe much of anything to anyone. That gives them more leverage as they have financial independence.

Something else they know is what would the Americans or South Koreans gain from going to war with North Korea? Samsung wouldn't be happy, LG wouldn't be happy, few people in South Korea would have to gain from war. North Korea doesn't have much to gain from war either. North Korea could have gained from a “Falklands war” but the problem is there is no equivalent of the Falklands. Kim Jung Eun and his regime are just trying to show that they have to shame at yelling at the US.

Question: So when will the yelling stop?

To tell you the truth, Kim Jung Eun can silence a lot of his subordinates, but the real conflict is probably between his wife and his sisters. There has been a shift in Korean culture where women play more of a role than they did in Kim Jung Il or Kim Il Sung's era. I know how competitive it can get between a wife and sisters-in-law, in terms of inheritance and what not. Especially in terms of who would be the successor. Kim is trying to show that leadership is a man's job.

Final question: So what is the future of North Korea?

For the reasons I described above, Kim Jung Eun is not done laying out his pawns on the chess board. Once he will decide what the order of succession will be and that there will be a consensus around that in his palace, he can probably start befriending South Korea and you will have something of a Sunshine Policy 2/0. or détente 2.0 if you prefer. The first Sunshine policy was when Kim Jung Il was done laying out his succession, but because Kim Jung Il was older and had been in the palace longer, he had an easier time laying down his chess board.


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