Friday, February 04, 2005

North Korea - Fast Enough?

A story in the Sunday Times takes a look inside North Korea and suggests that Kim Jong-il's regime may be in its death throes:
Some of those interviewed believe the “Dear Leader”, Kim Jong-il, has already lost his personal authority to a clique of generals and party cadres. Without any public announcement, governments from Tokyo to Washington are preparing for a change of regime.

The death of Kim’s favourite mistress last summer, a security clampdown on foreign aid workers and a reported assassination attempt in Austria last November against the leader’s eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, have all heightened the sense of disintegration...

The dictator’s favoured heir apparent, his son Kim Jong-chol, 23, who was educated in Geneva, is reported to have staged a shoot-out inside a palace with Kim Jang-hyun, 34, an illegitimate son of Kim Il-sung, father of the dictator and founder of the dynasty.

Rumours of rivalry and bloodshed have multiplied since the Dear Leader’s last meetings with dignitaries from Russia and China last September. Since then Kim has vanished from view.

Analysts in Seoul say that in recent propaganda pictures the bouffant-haired dictator is wearing the same clothes as in photographs from two years ago, suggesting that they may have been taken then. Observers await Kim’s official birthday, February 16, to see if the state media accord him the usual fawning adulation.

The article offers a glimpse inside one of the most isolated societies on earth, one dominated by the cult of Kim's father "The Great Leader":
Fifty miles south of the border we watched as schoolchildren obediently filed out in a shrieking gale to follow their teachers in pilgrimage along the seashore to a shrine to Kim Il-sung, who is still revered as the “Great Leader”. Lined up outside a fisherman’s cottage where the Great Leader stayed in 1953, they listened to a revolutionary harangue by a woman teacher with more attention than most seven to 12-year-olds might muster. They had marched two miles, wrapped up like small bundles against a wind that blew off the Sea of Japan so bitterly that the spray froze on the lines of the fishing boats. It was –15C that day.
These are children whose average weight and height after years of malnutrition are 20% less than those of their equals in South Korea, according to the United Nations. Their rations were recently cut from 300g to 250g of staple food a day.
The article attributes the turmoil in part to President Bush's re-election:
"Bush’s re-election dealt a blow to Kim, 62, who had gambled on a win by John Kerry, the Democratic candidate. Kim used a strategy of divide and delay to drag out nuclear talks with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea through 2004.

Kim lost his bet and now faces four more years of Bush, who says that he “loathes” the North Korean leader and has vowed to strip him of atomic weapons."
The end can't come soon enough.