Saturday, January 8, 2011

Is the mainstream media finally coming around on "The Kim Who Wasn't There"?

[originally posted here and here]

As someone who has long insisted (please read link first) that the ascension of Kim Jong-un, the son of Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, is not the done deal that it has been made out to be in the press, I am tickled that the Washington Post and the New York Times are finally recognizing that they may have collectively jumped the gun. From the NYT:
When he was introduced to the public in September, Kim Jong-un appeared destined to succeed his father, Kim Jong-il, as the leader of the irascible, destitute and nuclear-armed nation. But a growing number of experts in Seoul are beginning to question whether he has been fully certified, despite his elevation to high military rank and the urgency created by his father’s poor health.

“There are some minor but real reasons to ask if we are rushing our judgment about Kim Jong-un,” said Andrei Lankov, a professor and North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul.

“The regime seems to be making preparations for the succession, but they haven’t reached the point of no return,” Mr. Lankov said. “Next year, they could very well say, ‘Kim Jong- un? Oh, he’s just one of 20 other generals.’”

Certainly, the Kim family has worked hard to make the succession appear inevitable. Despite having had no field experience in the military, the youngman was made a four-star general Sept. 28. His father also gave him two powerful posts in the ruling Workers’ Party.

Father and son appeared together the following week, reviewing a military parade in Pyongyang. The parade was shown live by several foreign broadcasters, a first for the notoriously secretive nation.

What the cameras showed was a rotund young man with an uncanny physical resemblance to his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea. Jowls, smile, posture, tunic, haircut — all nearly identical, right down to the dainty and perfunctory way he clapped his hands.

But that is where the learning curve ended, and experts have been confounded by the younger Mr. Kim’s low profile in the ensuing months. Interviews with scholars, analysts, diplomats and recent refugees suggest that Mr. Kim, much like his country, largely remains a riddle. “We know more about distant galaxies than we do about North Korea,” a Western diplomat said privately.

A hundred days after his elevation, the regime’s powerful mythmaking apparatus has hardly mentioned the heir apparent, to the surprise of most North Korea watchers. Ordinary citizens seemingly know little about him, and his personal biography still contains the same large, unexplained gaps it has since he was first mentioned as a potential successor: he studied as a teenager in Switzerland, or so it seems; he speaks several languages, or maybe just the one; he’s married, or perhaps he’s single; he dearly loves his oldest brother, or has plotted with Chinese agents to have him killed.
To the surprise of many North Korea watchers? Well, not this one! I've been saying as much for four months.

And not Barbara Demick, who bravely admits she doesn't know what's going on (no one does), and who suggests that last fall's "coming out party" for Kim Jong-un to which the Western media was invited (which was actually a reaffirmation that Kim Jong-il is in charge) just means that "he's daddy's favorite."

I've been saying since September that the North Korean media reports (i.e., KCNA) do not match the picture being painted by the Western media — which is scrambling to report something on this guy they know nothing about and thus easily falls into the trap of reporting each other's speculations as factualistic and truthy — and by groups of brave North Korean defectors and rogue on-the-ground "journalists" (NOTE: I had inadvertently omitted that word when I first posted this) which inadvertently satiate a hungry know-nothing South Korean, Japanese, and Western media with stories they want to believe.

(Nor do the facts on the ground support a Kim Jong-un ascension. Kim Jong-il is still "healthy" — Western speculative reports of his imminent demise notwithstanding — and has been for some time, even though the Western media thought they could report him almost-dead to death. Meanwhile, the big story that's probably really happening is being largely ignored: that Beijing is pressuring Pyongyang to adopt economic reforms being followed in Northeast China that could alter the nature of the country and integrate the DPRK with neighboring Chinese provinces and make North Korea more palatable to the PRC leadership, what I am calling the Manchurianization of North Korea.)

If Kim Jong-un is to be made a leader that the North Korean people are expected to follow, the case will be made in the hagiographic pages of the official mouthpieces: the KCNA and the Rodong Shinmun. If he's not being deified there, then any claims that he has already been anointed should be questioned.

Anyway, I'm glad the NYT seems to be getting it now (and only several months later). I was also a little tickled by this sentence regarding the mystery surrounding Kim Jong-un's age:
It is still unclear whether he turned 28 or 29 on his birthday this Saturday.
Ha ha! Welcome to Korean age.

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