Monday, October 11, 2010

Take Your Successor to Work Day

Let me start by reiterating my working hypothesis: The Western media is making a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to anything regarding Kim Jong-un because (a) a dynastic transition in a dangerously opaque rogue state makes for an interesting story and (b) the Western media reflecting and amplifying this story in near unison provides cover for the fact that they don't really know what's going on (this includes the South Korean media, which didn't even realize how Kim Jong-un's name was spelled in Korean until a few months ago). Meanwhile, the North Korean media is conspicuously talking up Kim Jong-il's re-election and continued hold on power, and is notably nearly devoid of any mention of Kim Jong-un [updated examples here], despite his promotion to four-star general and his new appointment as Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission. This indicates that some of the cogs are in place for Dynastic Transition 2.0, but that the lever has not been pulled and may never be

And now, on to our story.

Even though I submit that North Korean media is not really trying very hard to play up Kim Jong-un in the North Korean media, a few events involving the Western media (some members of which were invited unexpectedly to Pyongyang for live broadcasts of military parades and anniversary celebrations), may have undermined that notion, but only just a bit.

For starters, BBC is reporting that Kim Jong-un was seen with his dad on the dais at a grand military parade. The AP, which among those summoned to Pyongyang, also made a big deal about KJU being seen with KJI at this "lavish parade":
Clapping, waving and even cracking a smile, Kim Jong Il's heir apparent joined his father Sunday at a massive military parade in his most public appearance since being unveiled as North Korea's next leader.

Kim Jong Un, dressed in a dark blue civilian suit, sat next to his father on an observatory platform at Kim Il Sung Plaza as tanks carrying rocket-propelled grenades and long-range missiles rolled by as part of celebrations marking the 65th anniversary of the reclusive state's ruling Workers' Party.

It was a momentous public debut for Kim Jong Un less than two weeks after he was made a four-star general in the first in a series of appointments that set him firmly on the path to succession, which would carry the Kim dynasty over the communist country into a third generation.
We have yet to see KCNA reports on this parade (they'll appear maybe today or tomorrow), but Kim Jong-un has so far been all but absent in North Korean media reports of the various other celebrations and events. And the distance between him        and his father on the parade-viewing platform (see below) hardly depicts "a momentous public debut." This goes right along with my working hypothesis above. [UPDATE: Kim Jong-un was mentioned in the KCNA report on the parade; he was the fourth person listed in the third paragraph.]

But then a senior Workers' Party Korea official has apparently talked up the transfer of power in an interview with AP:
Speaking at the start of celebrations to mark the 65th anniversary of the Workers' Party on Sunday, Mr Yang said: "Our people take pride in the fact that they are blessed with great leaders from generation to generation.

"Our people are honoured to be led by the great president Kim Il-sung and the great general Kim Jong-il. Now we also have the honour of being led by General Kim Jong-un," he said.
Whoa. I would really, really like to see what he said in Korean. It would not be the first time a Western media source provided a self-servingly creative translation. Among the reasons it doesn't strike me as accurate (or authoritative) is that Mr Yang's translated statement is factually wrong: General Kim Jong-un is not now leading the country. Maybe that's nitpicking, but it indicates a creative translation on someone's part (or perhaps awkward English on Mr Yang's part?).

The Associated Press has been making a big deal about its interview with Mr Yang, including his line about how the North Koreans would be happy to follow Kim Jong-un. But in keeping with my working hypothesis, I'd like to point out that the KCNA report on the same interview was short and sweet and included no mention whatsoever of the newly minted four-star general:
Yang Hyong Sop Meets APTN Delegation

Pyongyang, October 8 (KCNA) -- Yang Hyong Sop, vice-president of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People's Assembly, met and had a talk with the delegation of the Associated Press Television News of United Kingdom headed by Executive Director Nigel Baker on a visit to the DPRK to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Workers' Party of Korea at the Mansudae Assembly Hall Friday.
Unlike the Korea Herald and the Korea Times, which tend to filter and alter the Korean-language news they put in their English-language publication, the KCNA generally reflects in its online English-language reports the news it posts in its online Korean-language reports. The Korean-language version of the above story was also concise and did not say anything about Kim Jong-un:
양형섭부위원장이 영국련합통신TV보도회사대표단을 만났다

(평양 10월 8일발 조선중앙통신)양형섭 최고인민회의 상임위원회 부위원장은 8일 만수대의사당에서 조선로동당창건65돐에 즈음하여 조선을 방문하고있는 나이젤 베이커 집행국장을 단장으로 하는 영국련합통신TV보도회사대표단을 만나 담화를 하였다.(끝)
So we have sets of media going in two different directions. If the Western media is right (and they might be), then what would explain the North Korean media's reticence about Kim Jong-un? Surely if he is to be accepted as the next King Jong, his name should be put out there in lights, and it's not (so far). At least, not in the way AP and BBC would have us believe.

Could it be, as Barbara Demick has said, that KJU is not yet the successor, but just daddy's favorite? Could it be that KJI knows there are far more obstacles to this path than there were for Dynastic Transition 1.0 back in 1994? Could a lot more intrigue be going on up in Pyongyang than we realize?

As I wrote at ROK Drop (slightly edited below), things in 2010 look mighty different from 1994:
In Dynastic Transition 1.0, there was no pressure from China to reform. There was also a belief [among the Pyongyang elite] that continuity meant stability, which meant a better hold on power for themselves, whereas for the elite today, they see Dynastic Transition 2.0 concentrating more and more power in the hands of this small group of people who have proven to be rash at times.

That adds up to a sense among the elite that a dynastic transition, which in the 1990s didn’t seem like a bad idea, now seems like something that must not be repeated. And in Dynastic Transition 1.0, the whole idea of a dynastic transition of power was the wishes of a popular leader (Kim Ilsung), whereas now it’s the dream of one who is feared, not popular, and has run the country into the ground (and even the elite know that).

The most important difference, however, is that everyone has seen this movie before. They know how KJI consolidated power and KJU is being set down the same path. It’s easier to put up obstacles, particularly if KJI kicks the bucket sooner rather than later (though I’m in the camp that it will be later rather than sooner).
And again, my caveat: like everyone else, I don't know anything.

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