ROK Drop

Avatar of GI KoreaBy on December 18th, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Kim Jong-il May Be Dead, But Don’t Expect Major Changes In North Korea

» by in: North Korea

As most people have probably heard, Kim Jong-il died earlier today:

Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s mercurial and enigmatic leader whose iron rule and nuclear ambitions dominated world security fears for more than a decade, has died. He was 69.

Kim’s death 17 years after he inherited power from his father was announced Monday by the state television from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. The country’s “Dear Leader” — reputed to have had a taste for cigars, cognac and gourmet cuisine — was believed to have had diabetes and heart disease.

North Korea has been grooming Kim’s third son to take over power from his father in the impoverished nation that celebrates the ruling family with an intense cult of personality.

South Korea put its military on “high alert” and President Lee Myung-bak convened a national security council meeting after the news of Kim’s death.

In a “special broadcast” Monday, state media said Kim died of a heart ailment on a train due to a “great mental and physical strain” on Saturday during a “high intensity field inspection.”  [Associated Press]

I doubt Kim actually died today and the regime has been waiting for the right time to announce his death.  Anyway I expect that some people are going to take his death to mean that the regime will be on the verge of collapse or that they will be more accommodating to demands to denuclearize.  As I have always said the regime in North Korea is more then just one man.  There is an entire regime elite of people that are dependent on keeping the current form of government in place.  I don’t expect much to change in regards to North Korea’s foreign policy.  I think they will continue to play the brinkmanship game in return for international aid. The recent deal with the US for food aid in return for suspending their uranium program is a perfect example of this:

The United States is poised to announce a significant donation of food aid to North Korea this week, the first concrete accomplishment after months of behind-the-scenes diplomatic contacts between the two wartime enemies. An agreement by North Korea to suspend its controversial uranium enrichment program will likely follow within days.

A broad outline of the emerging agreement has been made known to The Associated Press by people close to the negotiations.

Discussions have been taking place since summer in New York, Geneva and Beijing. They already have yielded agreements by North Korea to suspend nuclear and ballistic missile testing, readmit international nuclear inspectors expelled in 2009, and resume a dialogue between North Korea and South Korea, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity of the negotiations.  [Washington Post]

This deal if the Washington Post account is correct allows the North Koreans to get needed aid while at the same time giving up nothing.  They will still be developing their nuclear program that is based around plutonium enrichment and still have the option of restarting their uranium program in the future after some manufactured reason is invented to renege on the deal which is what they always do.  As far as ballistic missile testing they can just say they are testing a space launch vehicle not an ICBM like they have done in the past.  I suspect the North Koreans agreed to this deal because they new Kim Jong-il was on the verge of death and they would need some time to get their house in order before playing the brinkmanship game again.  The Obama administration on the other hand gets to pretend that they scored some major foreign policy success just like the Clinton and Bush administrations did.  I predicted this was going to happen before the 2012 Presidential election last year.  So foreign policy wise I expect the same old North Korea.

Domestically within North Korea I expect that the regime elite will try to prop up the image of Kim Jong-il’s successor his son, Kim Jong-un as much as possible.  I am sure that much of the North Korean media focus will be on how Kim Jong-un is such a faithful son to his dad due to his sincere grieving.  Kim Jong-il did much the same thing after his father Kim Il-sung died.  This will build sympathy for him with the North Korean public.  However, don’t expect Kim Jong-un to wield as much power as his dad did, much like Kim Jong-il did not wield as much power as his dad Kim Il-sung did either.  So basically the power of one man rule of the Kim family is being slowly drained over time to where I think Kim Jong-un will be basically a figurehead propped up by powerful family members and close friends.

Honestly I hope I am wrong and the whole place collapses like a house of cards but as the past has shown North Korea has survived much worse crisis than this and were able to keep the country going despite expert pronouncements of a pending collapse.  They will survive this too, but I think this is just another stress on the regime that is going to ultimately collapse but in slow motion and not the dramatic collapse that many expect.

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  • Leon LaPorte
    10:46 pm on December 18th, 2011 1

    If there is a collapse, I hope their million something man army is willing to trade their weapons for MRE’s versus the alternative.

  • ChickenHead
    10:55 pm on December 18th, 2011 2

    So Kim Jong-ill has been downgraded to Kim Jong-dead.

  • Denny
    11:09 pm on December 18th, 2011 3

    How can a 27 year old be expected to lead senior generals?

  • Glans
    11:20 pm on December 18th, 2011 4

    Just wait till Kim Jong-Un studies the Glans Plan for Korea.

  • Asia Pundits
    11:28 pm on December 18th, 2011 5

    I will be doing a piece on what is to come next later today on the blog. For now have a look at the update I posted an hour ago.

  • Chump
    11:34 pm on December 18th, 2011 6

    Do you suppose that the odious little shit’s crimes will ever be exposed ala the Killing Fields after the sickening little creeps behind the Khmer Rouge were ousted?

    South Korea owes it to memory of the millions he killed and to their families to take this opportunity to rip that place wide open.

  • JoeC
    12:00 am on December 19th, 2011 7


    “South Korea owes it to memory of the millions he killed and to their families to take this opportunity to rip that place wide open.”

    What opportunity? Their government hasn’t collapsed. There hasn’t been a regime change. No need to over react.

  • Teadrinker
    12:15 am on December 19th, 2011 8

    “Honestly I hope I am wrong and the whole place collapses like a house of cards…”

    As long as they don’t throw the flood gates open. The last thing South Korea needs is millions of North Korean peasants and soldiers crossing the border looking for the same handouts North Korean refugees are given.

  • Fanwarrior
    1:08 am on December 19th, 2011 9

    #8, of course not. But millions of people ready to go to work and build up their country would be great. Increase food production, get the big companies involved, maybe they might want to build some factories and other production facilities up there where it’s cheap, more room, cheaper labour, etc.

    Koreans have shown in the past that they’re willing to pull together and rebuild their country, and do so with a decent result, no reason to think they’d do so differently now. Despite how foreigners see them, a lot of koreans don’t really view North Korea as the “enemy”

  • someotherguy
    1:35 am on December 19th, 2011 10

    He won’t be leading senior generals, it will most likely be the other way around. KJI died about ten years too early, he hasn’t had the time to properly train KJU in how to be a ruthless dictator and vicious sonofabitch. And while it may take political balls of granite to play the international community, it takes a special kind of cruel twisted mind to maintain power in a place like NK. It wasn’t loyalty that kept the political elite from offing KJI in some bid for power. It was cold hard fear.

    KJU will be used as a puppet leader, the real power will be the senior generals and Chinese connected political elite in the country. Then there is the slight chance the generals will just get tired of all the elites and execute a coupe. Not likely as China is how they get their money, but a possibility.

  • Teadrinker
    2:53 am on December 19th, 2011 11

    “KJU will be used as a puppet leader, the real power will be the senior generals and Chinese connected political elite in the country.”

    No, Kim Jong il’s sister, brother-in-law, and widow will continue calling the shots, as they have since Kim Jong il’s stroke.

  • usinkorea
    4:23 am on December 19th, 2011 12

    Prediction: Nuclear and/or ICBM test within the next 12 months – barring the transition going horribly wrong with large scale civil unrest moving toward implosion…

    Both the US and SK will be having national presidential elections. If they are able to hold power together, the regime will feel much pressure to flex its muscles – both for the benefit of the outside world and especially for the N. Korean masses – and they will need to prove they can wring concessions out of the world just like they did under the two senior Kims.

  • Expat
    4:31 am on December 19th, 2011 13

    The Chinese are moving in, as No. 10 well notes. China will never allow a collapse of the DPRK and a South or South-friendly situation (US ally) on their border. If they have to the PRC will handpick, train and post a DPRK DMZ internal defense force (guns aimed backwards, a la the Berlin Wall) on their own to prevent any mass exodus or public wall breach. The PRC is obsessed with the “mistakes” of the Soviet Union, including the Wall breach. They will never let it happen.

  • usinkorea
    4:35 am on December 19th, 2011 14

    Who is keeping a watch on Kim Jong-Nam?

  • Glans
    4:54 am on December 19th, 2011 15

    North seems to have conducted a short-range missile test, unconnected to the death of Kim Jong-Il. Sam Kim of AP relies on a Yonhap report.

  • Teadrinker
    5:37 am on December 19th, 2011 16


    Maybe, but don’t forget that North Korea is far from being anywhere as developed as East Germany was. You’re talking about an unskilled (and vastly uneducated) workforce.

    However, it would be interesting to see what happens to the agreements North Korea has signed with China concerning the exploitation of its mineral resources.

  • What Happens Next in North Korea? — Asia Pundits
    11:02 am on December 19th, 2011 17

    [...] today, discussion is rife on the blogosphere about what will happen next in North Korea. It is assumed that heir apparent, 28 year old Kim Jong-un will take the helm of the country under the guidance of [...]

  • MTB Rider
    5:45 am on December 20th, 2011 18

    When I was reading ROK Drop just the other day, I cam across a link showing the different Body Doubles KJI used while he was alive. Some were serious, and some were clearly jokes (the marionette from Team America, World Police).

    Problem is, I don’t remember where I saw it. Anybody have a link? It might not be ROK Drop itself, but I’ve gone though several of the Must Read K-Blogs with little success.

  • Reactions to the Death of Kim Jong-il « Michael Amedeo Tumolillo
    8:41 pm on December 22nd, 2011 19

    [...] Drop | A Slow Goodbye: GI Korea writes that we should expect more of the same in North Korea following Kim Jong-il’s death, but Kim [...]


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