Kim Jong Il

Image by Dunechaser via Flickr

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has issues three-point plan for Japan’s response to Kim Jong-Il’s death that is the very definition of  brevity.

Instructions from the Prime Minister with regard to press reports about the Death of Chairman Kim Jong-Il of the National Defense Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

  1. Strengthen information gathering posture relating to unfolding events in the DPRK.
  2. Closely share information with the United States of America, Republic of Korea, People’s Republic of China and other related countries.
  3. Fully prepare for contingencies.

But point three is huge – what contingencies could occur in the peninsula?

No one knows much about Kim Jong-Un, the “Great Successor” waiting in the wings. He is believed to have studied in Switzerland, may be a big fan of basketball, has been described as both shy and very competitive. This veil of secrecy surrounding North Korea’s internal workings and personalities means we simply cannot know what contingencies Japan should prepare for. The outcomes could be any of…

  1. Full-blown Korean peninsula war.
  2. Border skirmishes along the Demilitarized zone near Seoul.
  3. A coup against the young general, by older military men who refuse to take orders from a young and untested man (bearing in mind Asia’s traditional social structures, and his mere months of military experience).
  4. Kim Jong-Un’s dependence on his uncle, Kim Jong-Il’s brother-in-law, and Vice-Chairman of the National Defence Committee, Chang Sung Taek, is proven to be misplaced – the man, previously the guarantor of his succession, takes the role for himself, or is shafted himself.
  5. Kim Jong-Un manages to consolidate his power - Chang Sung Taek proves reliable, controls the other generals (who are mostly in control of the country’s nuclear arms), and this weekend between the death of Kim Jong-il and the announcement of his death has given Kim Jong-Un enough of a chance to purge the ranks of his enemies and his father’s loyalists.
  6. Kim Jong-Un does not prove to be as similar to his father as it has previously appeared and moves towards internal liberalisation.
  7. The country will open up, due to a combination of internal factors and the temptation of food aid.
  8. North Korea will renounce nuclear weapons.

It is likely that Kim Jong-Un will manage to consolidate his power. Chang Sung Taek seems reliable, and  this weekend seems to have been an opportunity to consolidate. Kim Jong-Un’s naming as “Great Successor” and the head of the funeral proceedings seems to give him sole right to carry out his father’s legacy. But he is far too similar to his cruel and vicious father to give up any power. The only thing that can work against him is his youth and inexperience… which may result in either internal struggle or external conflict.

The Short-range missile tests the North has reputedly carried out on Monday would hint at being a warning to other nations not to interfere in North Korea’s affairs. The veil of secrecy is not falling yet.

Our ability to figure out what may happen entirely depends on a series of questions being answered.

  • Can he control older men in the military?
  • Is Chang Sung Taek reliable and in power, or has he been shifted to the side as some suggest?
  • Is he ready, after only been waiting in the wings months, instead of his fathers decades?
  • Is there another claimant to the throne? Another brother, a general…
  • What was he doing over the weekend, since Kim Jong-Il’s death? Was he consolidating his power, carrying out purges?

Only when we have these answers will we know what Japan needs to prepare for…

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Feel free to check out my other posts on the topic of Kim Jong-Il’s death and the reaction of South Korea. Over 400 views between them!

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