Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The beginning of the end?

[above: All smiles. Has stroke damage put a permanent look of jocularity on Kim Jong-il's face?]

I awoke this morning to a friend having emailed that he saw on the MSNBC news ticker that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il may have suffered a stroke. Though I don't have cable TV (heck, I barely have digital TV), I went to the MSNBC site and, lo and behold, there it was. I thought I might come out of hibernation/retirement and post a note to one of Marmot's open threads, but R. Elgin beat me to the punch (note that he used a question mark in his title, too). 

News of this possible stroke comes amid speculation about the Dear Leader's whereabouts after he failed to attend the 60th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, that's the communist one up north). This, of course, following speculation by a North Korea watcher Toshimitsu Shigemura of Waseda University in Japan that the Dear Leader had kicked the bucket five years ago and what we see right now are his doubles. 

[It's interesting side note, by the way, that this all comes down on the 60th anniversary of the DPRK founding. In Chinese-dominated East Asian tradition, sixty years is considered a full cycle, five rounds of the twelve symbols of the Chinese zodiac, roughly equivalent to a full life back in the day (this is why hwan•gap, a person's 60th birthday celebration—61st birthday in Korean age—is such a big deal). The sexagenary system for naming years (kabo, ŭryu, imjin, kyeyukapshin, etc.) goes through sixty names before it starts over. Maybe the 60th anniversary of the DPRK founding is a time for new direction and renewal, just like the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II should signal the end of loathing toward Japan.]

"For the North Korean people," my friend wrote, "I hope this is true." 

Careful what you wish for. 

I, like most people in South Korea, would love for the DPRK not to exist. But, like most people in South Korea, I am very apprehensive about how we will get from the current Point A to a future Point B where the North has been absorbed, integrated, and normalized by the South, à la East and West Germany. It will be expensive, painful, and possibly bloody. The only thing certain is that nobody is ready for what is going to happen. Being a resident of central Seoul, I fear I'm also going to be in the middle of ground zero for whatever social turmoil erupts in the south over this (be it refugees, protests against new policies, or even violence, God forbid). 

A new and possibly even greater concern is how China will react. I've made no secret of my fear that Beijing has been positioning itself ideologically and politically for a takeover of the DPRK were it to collapse. It has punished North Korea for stepping out on its own to create free-trade zones (like in Shinŭiju, in the northwest corner of the DPRK), and it has tried to convince the world with its "Northeast Asia Project" that Koguryǒ, one of Korea's historic "Three Kingdoms," is historically a part of China.

In other words, as they see with Tibet and Mongolia, the Chinese government trying to convince the Chinese people that they have a claim of sorts over what is now North Korea. That may be just enough to justify a takeover of the DPRK, as I mentioned here and other places. The result would be a bloody uprising—it's doubtful that the North Koreans would tolerate any non-Korean occupier—that could get very, very messy before it's over.  

South Korea, of course, claims all of Korea, just as North Korea does. The two are competing governments over the same territory. It had been assumed for decades that a North Korea collapse would be followed by a South Korea takeover, hopefully a peaceful one. That prospect is not only expensive, but China's moves put it in doubt. But even if Beijing completely backs off, things could get messy with North Koreans rioting over policies ranging from property redistribution to food distribution to retribution against their former leaders. 

Messy. All this will be very messy. No one knows how the military and the leadership, who have abused their people for years, will react. Will they cut and run, à la the Nazis at the end of WWII? Will they hunker down, à la many countries that have fallen? Will they just give up their arms, à la Japanese soldiers at the end of WWII? Will they perhaps point their fingers at their superiors to avoid getting in trouble, as some Nazis did? Will they try to maintain a semblance of governance so they can negotiate a way out of their predicament? 

Will the people string up their leaders, à la Ceaucescu in Romania? Will the people demand goods and services from South Korea? Will the people welcome the South Koreans? 

So many questions. I hope there's a plan in place to give the military leaders a way out so they don't hunker down and cause even more damage, even if that means letting some people go without punishment. I also hope there's a plan in place to grant the North Korean people the rights to the property they've been using, so we don't cement in place permanent poverty for those unlucky enough to be living up there.

So many question marks today. So many more to come. 

Of course, after all this hubbub, it might turn out in the end that Kim Jong-il has sneaked out of the country to record his next album. (It looks like someone has stolen my gag! Intellectual property-stealing biatch!)

Special to Monster Island: transcript from video where above photo was lifted:
KJI: ... Okay, I've got another one. 
COMRADE 1: We would all love to hear it, Dear Leader.
COMRADES: [in unison] Yes, please! Another one!
KJI: What's the difference between George Bush and a bucket of shit?
COMRADE 2: We do not know, Benevolent One. Please enlighten us!
COMRADE 3: Yes, enlighten us so we may make sure your will is followed!
KJI: The bucket!
COMRADES: [intense laughter] Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! [one COMRADE is heard falling on the floor] Ha ha ha ha ha ha!
KJI: Actually, I don't get it. But it had Mark Chinoy in stitches when Bill Richardson told it to him. 
KJI: Mao? Dammit, Cho. You're such a buzz kill. 
COMRADE 2: Would you like us to re-educate him, Sir? 

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