Kim Jong-un's North Korea: More of the same?

Kim Jong-un's North Korea: More of the same?

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is best known for one thing: secrecy. However, when the DPRK wants the world to know something, the DPRK propaganda machine does it well. Supreme leader Kim Jong-il rose to power after his father, Kim Il-sung died in 1994 at the age of 82...

In the years leading up to his death, Kim Il-sung constantly gave his son more and more power due to his failing health. Thus, when reports of Kim Jong-Il’s failing health began to trickle out of the country, it was certain that there would be an announcement of who would be Kim Jong-Il’s successor.

Enter Kim Jong-un, one of Kim Jong-il’s three (known) sons. Kim Jong-Un made his debut to the world in mid September when he was promoted to four-star general. Amidst speculation about whether or not Kim Jong-un would be Kim Jong-il’s successor, he attended the 65th anniversary of the Korean Worker’s Party’s founding near his father. An official DPRK spokesman later confirmed that he would indeed be the successor to Kim Jong-il.

Kim Jong-un’s rapid rise to power comes during a time of great tension between the two Koreas. South Korea still blames the DPRK for their involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan, a claim that North Korea denies having involvement in.

While the Cheonan incident created a source of tension, the relationship between South and North Korea has actually been rather progressive with the creation of the Kaesong Industrial Region, a collaborative economic development zone in North Korea. The DPRK is also attempting to resume six-party nuclear talks. From an outsider’s prospective, it appears that the DPRK is beginning to open up their country in an active attempt to slowly remove their economic policy of Juche, or total self-reliance.

The future of North Korea remains uncertain with the transition from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un. Currently, North Korea is one of the most impoverished countries in the world. It has little to no economic engine, and they keep pushing their own militaristic ideology against the wishes of the world.

Yet, Kim Jong-un may be the salvation of the North Korean people. Unlike his father, Kim Jong-un grew up and was educated in Switzerland before he returned to North Korea to attend Kim Il-sung University. In this instance, Kim Jung-un’s exposure to the west while growing up will work towards the people of North Korea’s advantage.

He’s been exposed to an alternative life style; one of capitalism and democracy. North Korea still touts that capitalism is inherently evil and antithetical to the people’s well being. However, Kim Jung-un will be a ruler who has been isolated from this ideology, and has experienced that capitalism and democracy enhances the country.

Kim Jong-un has even been reported as saying that he questions the structure of the current Korean Workers Party regime. At the age of 18 Kim Jong-un was quoted in an article in the New York Times as saying “We are here, playing basketball, riding horses, riding Jet Skis, having fun together, but what of the lives of the average people?” If true, it shows that the new leader will be more concerned with enhancing the lives of his people over the elite.

However, while Kim Jong-un might be more liberal with rights and economic policies than his father, the world should not expect an overnight transition. Some North Korean watchers believe that after the death of Kim Jong-il, Jang Song-thaek will act as regent due to Jong-un’s lack of political experience.

This move shows that there is less confidence in his son than previously thought, as Jang is Kim Jong-il’s brother in law, but holds the same ideologies as Kim Jong-il. If Jang takes control as regent, Kim Jong-un will have to make massive concessions with possible progressive policies if he is to ever take control. Otherwise, he would be viewed as unfit to rule still.

The impacts on South Korean relations would then be almost moot. After the death of Kim Jong-il, the elite that control the DPRK will still remain in power and refuse to surrender that power until Kim Jong-un sides with them over critical policy measures. This leads to a very dangerous situation since the North is currently in a standoff politically with the South.

However, the rise of the Kaesong Industrial Region and several other economic zones shows potential for a more liberal and open North Korea. The only problem is that the North Korean political decisions will always remain antithetical to the western spheres of influence. The DPRK’s constant attempts at becoming a nuclear power will always cause tensions between the North and the South, especially with the South being a close ally to the United States.

All is not lost though, as there is external hope available. Recently the DPRK has tried to open its self to the Chinese. The Chinese who are gaining immense power within the region could be a channel for dialogue with the North Koreans.

Kim Jong-un is a great speculation to not only the people within North Korea, but also abroad. While certain factions believe that Kim Jong-un might be a great leader and actually lead North Korea to be more liberal with their international relations, the political elites in the nation will not let that happen as soon as people would expect. The secrecy of the DPRK does not shed a lot of light over the issue, but it does give some indication on where the nation is headed.