Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sorry, Mr Kim. We've decided to go with the dead guy.

I've been meaning to write a post highlighting this story from NPR which asks if North Korea is changing or resisting change, but that will have to wait, because the big story is Kim Jong-un's job promotion.

Although I still hold out that there is considerable factionalism in the Pyongyang regime and that some of those coteries (Koteries?) are none too happy that a wholly inexperienced kid of twenty-nine has become the new Nepot Despot, there are clear signs that, outwardly at least, KJU's hold on power is solidifying.

What KJU lacks in congeniality he makes up for in congealment of power.

Of course, it helps when your political patrons behind the scenes are executing your would-be rivals right and left. Still, just as the Great Currency Obliteration of 2009 likely turned entire classes of people against the regime that they no longer saw as on their side, the killing of so many of the elite may give opponents a sense that they must kill or be killed. Or something like that. Since I don't know which faction is more likely to allow openness and reform, I'm not sure for whom to root.

Anyway, Kim Jong-un's position appears to have strengthened with his new title:
Kim Jong Un was named first secretary of the ruling Workers' Party, a new post, while his late father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il, was given the posthumous title of "eternal general secretary" at a special Workers' Party conference, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.

Kim Jong Un's formal ascension, nearly four months after the death of his father, comes during a week of events leading up to celebrations Sunday marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather, late President Kim Il Sung.

The centennial is a major milestone in the nation Kim Il Sung founded in 1948, and the streets were awash with new posters, banners and the national flag. Outside the city's war museum and the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium, women in traditional Korean dress gathered in clusters, practicing for this week's events.
Still, I think it's notable that he still has not been granted all the trappings of power that his father or grandfather had. I mean, he should have been named General Secretary, instead of giving his father that significant title in the form of an "eternal" position (Kim Ilsung is eternal president).

That's not just a blow to the ego, it's also a precarious situation. What does the First Secretary do that a General Secretary does (or does not)? Just as he was made a mere vice chairman of the Central Military Commission before his father's death, this is a half measure (or three-quarters) that may reflect a lack of solid backing.

(I think the point I'm making is even starker if you look through the KCNA website: all over the place, Kim Jong-il is the ch'ong pisŏ [총비서], as in ultimate secretary, whereas Kim Jong-un is merely che-il pisŏ [제1비서], as in the first secretary after the chief secretary, sort of like first runner-up in a beauty contest.)

Sure, he was made Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army a couple weeks after his daddy died, but it's not entirely clear how much power that affords him either.

Baby steps for the baby general.

Anyway, with the hope that the Western-educated Kim Jong-un might actually be a Gorbachev or a Deng Xiaoping in wolf's clothing, maybe a shoring up of support could be the best thing for North Korea in the long run. (I still think one could make a convincing case that Kim Jong-il himself may have been a mere figurehead.)

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