It has been relatively quiet on the eastern front. The North Korean dictatorship hasn’t been rattling its sword with persistent missile launches, refusing international inspection of its nuclear capability or having border issues with the South. This was typical of the regime headed by Kim Jong Un since he took the reins in 2011.
Now the world leaders are worried because not much is happening to upset the Western world, and Kim was not seen for six weeks. His public absence became a signal of a possible coup within the Communist Party when Kim failed to appear at a major national holiday event. Three days ago Kim mysteriously reappeared, walking with a cane.
Columnist William Pesek suggests Kim Jong Un’s disappearance either isn’t a story or the biggest one in Asia this year. Maybe it’s only the health problem that kept Dear Leader out of sight. Perhaps he was a prisoner in a palace coup. Or was Kim in seclusion to plot his next tirade against neighboring South Korea and the rest of the free world?
Another problem that will seriously restrain North Korea’s economy is the deteriorating partnership with China. Ever since the Korean peninsula was split into two opposing governments in 1948, China has been an ally for military and economic support. The three Kim regimes would have failed without China’s trade and early subsidies from the former Soviet Union. China wants to keep North Korea as a friendly buffer from Western influence in Asia.
Kim Jong Un does not have the same compatible relationship with China’s leaders as his father did. In fact, North Asian observers note that China is fed up with Kim’s antics that primarily are intended to flex muscle and show the world that he is in control. But is he?
In retaliation, Chinese officials are making it difficult for North Korea to import luxury items for the elite in Kim’s regime. Cadillacs, Rolex watches, fur coats and expensive spirits are generously spread among party leaders as bribes for their loyalty. These luxuries imported from China, as well as desperately needed food and energy products for the ordinary folk are being limited.
Meanwhile, democratic South Korea is setting records in manufacturing products for export and consumption. There is even talk of efforts to develop trade relations with the North and the possibility of unification. South Korean President Park Geun Hye met with Kim’s top aides early this month in a summit that showed signs of North Korea’s need to start building new bridges to the outside world.
Historically, ancient Korea was called the Hermit Kingdom. Like its neighbor Japan, centuries of ruling dynasties closed the borders to outsiders until China provided military protection from insurgents and ruled the kingdom from the 16th century, followed by Russia in the 19th century. After Japan won the country after a war with Russia in 1910, the victors exploited the land as an occupied colony.
That explains why Korea was living in a 19th-century environment after World War II, when the country was split by the spoils of another war. Kim Il Sung, the North Korean Communist guerrilla leader who fought Japanese occupation, was anointed by the Soviet Union to be the leader of North Korea.
His son Kim Jong Il carried on the tradition of Communist rule that forced the country into extreme economic decline with millions dying of malnutrition and lack of shelter while a military force and nuclear capability were amply supported.
With the usual tight lid on internal government affairs, it’s no surprise that the North Korea regime did not report Dear Leader’s health issue. It is also curious why Kim’s officials are actually talking to South Korea’s leaders about opening the border. The situation certainly signifies there may be some trouble in the illusory paradise created by the Communists.