Thursday, February 17, 2011

Did a Chinese official confirm the ascension of Kim Jong-un?

[Note: This post and its companion are a compilation and expansion of two recent comments I left at One Free Korea, slightly expanded upon here.]

Mr Meng and Mr Kim, as presented by Reuters.
Kim Jong-un is in the back with the sycophants.

A couple of recent North Korea-related news items have led a few bloggers and commenters to ask me whether I should rethink my position that Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il's son and presumed heir, is little more than "The Kim Who Wasn't There" (see here, here, and most recently here).

First, there is this item at One Free Korea:
“Meng Jianzhu, China’s public security minister, congratulated Kim’s youngest son Jong-un on his appointment as vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission last year, “hailing the successful solution of the issue of succession to the Korean revolution,” KCNA news agency reported. This is followed by some “expert” interpretations of what “succession” means in this context, but I don’t find those interpretations very persuasive.
This comes from a Reuters article entitled, "China openly backs North Korea succession plan: KCNA" (a similar article from Yonhap is here). Joshua himself invites me to address the issue:
Over to you, Kushibo
Hmm... I'd really like to see which KCNA report they're referring to; that is, I'd like to see the actual report. This one (here in Chosŏnŏ) about Mr Maeng meeting Kim Yongnam doesn't really bear out the above interpretation:
Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People's Assembly, met and had a friendly talk with Meng Jianzhu, minister of Public Security who is state councilor of the People's Republic of China, and his party at the Mansudae Assembly Hall Monday.

Meng said that the Sino-DPRK friendly relations sealed in blood are fraternal and comradely.

He underscored the need to strengthen and develop the Sino-DPRK relations provided by the leaders of the elder generations of the two countries generation after generation.

He noted that his visits to several places during his stay in the DPRK provided an opportunity to know well about the shining achievements made by the Korean people in the building of a thriving socialist nation by displaying the revolutionary fighting spirit and traits.

He expressed belief that under the wise leadership of Kim Jong Il the Korean people would register greater success in the future, too. [emphasis mine]
It would seem Mr Maeng Kŏnju, according to the KCNA, seems to think that Kim Jong-il will be the one leading North Korea 앞으로 (in the future).

But that doesn't matter if the media have an agenda to foist, or at least reputations to preserve (and admitting you don't know what's going on is a good way to tarnish your reputation). From the article Joshua linked:
"(But) we can interpret that as a sign of acceptance on the part of China's political and power elite with regards to North Korea's succession," said Park Young-ho, of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
In other words: Mr Maeng says one thing, but we can "interpret" that to mean that other, different thing we've already decided it means. In other other words, "These are not the droids you're looking for."

Thank you, but I'll stick to the manifest content of these dreamy pronouncements. The latent interpretation is just too fuzzy. Particularly when it's coming from people who had no clue that "Kim Jong-un" was 김정은 and not 김정운. I mean, really, are we supposed to place all our faith in the tea leaf-reading of "experts" and journalists who got the guy's name wrong in Korean because they only had access to it in English or Japanese?!

I'll reiterate my position: I do believe that someone is trying to push Kim Jong-un into a position of leadership, perhaps as a figurehead, a puppet, a dupe, a symbol around which to rally the people, a source of stability, whatever, BUT this is by no means the done deal that we are being led to believe it is, as the South Korean, Japanese, and Western media are looking for evidence though which to prove that interpretation, even to the point of misleading us (in the free world) that the North Korean hoi polloi are being pushed to accept it.

Mr Kim and Mr Meng and the other Kim, presented by Fox News.
Look, suddenly the L'il Kim is up in front. But where was he mostly?
Did everyone have a chance to come up front? Did others? Just KJU?
We actually know very little from this picture, but we're tempted to assume a lot.

This father-to-son transfer of power will not likely be pushed onto the hoi polloi until it is on solid ground within the ruling elite, which is a somewhat shaky prospect. It might happen, but it hasn't happened yet. We will know when this has happened because it will be evident in the North Korean media and on regime paraphernalia, like the official portraiture and badges. Such Kim Jong-un hagiography, portraiture, and paraphernalia have not yet materialized, which was a key element of the aforementioned link.

Meanwhile, all this tabloidesque focus on palace intrigue (Kim Jongchol at an Eric Clapton concert, really?!) utterly ignores the real story that is going on, the Manchurianization of North Korea, whereby China is pushing the Pyongyang regime to accept Chinese-style reforms so as to stabilize the country by making it more prosperous and integrating it into Beijing's own plans for what used to be called Manchuria.

Kim Jong-un is not in charge now and possibly never will be. Heck, given the events of the last few years, I'm not entirely sure Kim Jong-il himself is actually in charge, but that's an issue for another day.

UPDATE (an hour later):
Ah, I finally found the KCNA article in question (朝鮮語), but it makes little difference. Here's an excerpt in English:
Kim Jong Il thanked for this and asked Meng to convey his regards to the senior officials of the Chinese party and state including Hu Jintao. He had a cordial and friendly talk with Meng.

Meng warmly congratulated Kim Jong Il upon his reelection as general secretary of the WPK and Kim Jong Un upon his election as vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK at the historic Conference of the WPK, hailing the successful solution of the issue of succession to the Korean revolution.

Witnessing the reality of the DPRK, he was deeply impressed by the signal achievements made by the Korean people under the leadership of Kim Jong Il, he said, adding that the Chinese people are rejoiced over as over their own the achievements made by the fraternal Korean people.
Is "the issue of succession to the Korean revolution" supposed to mean "the issue of Kim Jong-un's succession to Korean leadership"? That seems a stretch. Interesting that the Korean-language omits that part.

UPDATE 2 (the following morning):
[Note: this was originally a comment I left at OFK.] Joshua, I don't know that we were actually ever that far apart on it. With the government slots the untested General Kim Jong-un has been given, it's been clear at least since last October that he's being pushed up by someone.

However, what I take issue with is how the media, many experts, and even the government have not only accepted this uncritically, but they have also massaged recent events to fit an interpretation that the ascension is on the fast track. Cumulatively, I feel we are being misled.

The track record is abominable. Kim Jong-il is not dead from pancreatic cancer (remember that one?), he is not immobile from a stroke, and Kim Jong-un is not 김정. Yet think how confidently these were presented and how uncritically they were accepted.

Kim Jong-il almost certainly had a stroke, and then the collective media (South Korean, Japanese, and Western) fell over themselves trying to report Kim Jong-il to death. Every little sign was an indicator of his imminent demise, and pictures that showed him walking around were deemed to be faux-toshop fakes.

Yet it seems almost no one bothered to open up a medical manual or go to and see what actually happens with a minor stroke. Nothing related to his actual condition should have been surprising, but it turned out to be totally unexpected by a press and public that was sure he'd be dead by the first half of 2010.

Even the article you cited in this post refers to Kim Jong-il as "ailing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il." I won't take too much issue with the word ailing because technically it's true. The guy is probably taking Coumadin cocktails several times a day, but the word ailing suggests he's on a downward trend when in fact he seems to be recovering adequately and normally from the stroke. Indeed, he may be on an upward trend.

The media should stick to reporting what they know and do a better job of separating fact from speculation, while removing their hopeful agenda from the equation. And we should call them on it.

1 comment:

  1. For me, the point was not how Meng's words COULD be interpreted, but whether he ACTUALLY said them at all. IF he did (and I don't think the KCNA is above some good old fashioned lying, by the way), then I think they speak quite clearly for themselves;

    "조선노동당 대표자회에서 김정일 동지께서 조선노동당 총비서로 추대되고 김정은 동지께서 조선노동당 중앙군사위원회 부위원장으로 추대돼 조선혁명의 계승문제가 빛나게 해결된 데 대해 열렬히 축하한다"

    Making two facts, namely Kim Jong Il's reelection and Kim Jong Eun's selection, necessary conditions for the 빛난 해결. QED. I don't think there is the need for much more interpreting than that, honestly. But don't say that too loudly, since Seoul is absolutely awash in people making money off doing exactly that.

    Howsoever, I also get your point that it is presumably not a done deal. And yet we appear to agree on the Manchurianization aim of the Chinese leadership, and if that be true, would not Chinese support for Kim Jong Eun be A (not, note, THE) golden key to his future success(ion)?


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