Right now, Kim Jong-Il is paying a surprise visit to China. As usual, Mr. Joo Seong-Ha is right on top of it. Below is the translation of his recent blog post.
* * *
The term "Strong Country" [강성대국] appeared first on the editorial of North Korea's Rodong Shinmun for August 22, 1998. At the time, North Korea set 2002, when Kim Jong-Il would be 60 years old, as the time by which the Strong Country would be achieved. But in 2002, the regime changed its tune, saying: "This year is the year of the new reform toward building the Strong Country." It was a self-admission that it had failed to build a Strong Country.
But that same year, North Korea executed the July 1 Plan for Economic Management Reform which incorporated a great deal of market economy elements. In September, the regime announced the Shinuiju Special Administrative District, with Yang Bin as the minister. These announcements were quite enough to surprise the North Koreans, who hoped that they were finally coming to perestroika and glasnost. At least until 2005, when the reform faction headed by Prime Minister Park Bong-Ju was eliminated in a massive purge.
Once again, the goal time for the Strong Country is approaching, this time in 2012. The economy is not very different from the way it was 10 years ago. If the current trend continues, North Korea's public opinion will completely abandon its regime from which nothing can be expected. This would be a serious threat to the regime stability. Kim Jong-Il knows this very well, but right now he has neither the rice nor money to give to his people. So right now, he is pulling out his last card. Like he did in 2002, he is trying to plant hope and expectations. If he could make a show of massive development in the cities of Rajin, Seonbong and Shinuiju, North Koreans would think: "This time we must be really opening up. We held on this far; let's hang on just a little more."
This is the motivation that compels Kim Jong-Il to again visit China while bearing the criticisms of "beggar's diplomacy." To Kim Jong-Il, regime stability comes before his people. If he could maintain his regime without doing something, he would not have dragged his ill body to China three times in the last year.
Even Kim Jong-Il is not able to estimate the popular rage when he has nothing to give in 2012. The special economic zones are the inevitable card for the regime stability. If he manages to plant a seed of expectation and hope in the people's minds, he can maintain his power for the next few years until he died. He can also buy the time to firmly transfer the power to Kim Jong-Un. Should the special economic zones succeed, they would also relieve the pressure on the Kim Jong-Un regime, which would only go deeper into the hope.
Of course, Kim Jong-Il's dog-and-pony show for his people comes with a risk. North Korea's system is accustomed to decades of isolation and want. It has an immunity to the negative effects of holding the door shut to a degree that horrifies the world. But opening up that door is not a game that Kim Jong-Il is used to playing. The North Korean regime might have been able to endure the lack for decades, but not endure the excess for just a few years.
But the reality of North Korea is that it must at least pretend to open its doors despite such risk, because the risk of failing to do so is even greater. Next year, North Korea will probably crack open its doors while standing ready to slam it shut when things go wrong. But once the door opens, no one knows what will happen next -- whether a breeze or a hurricane will enter through that opening.
노구 김정일의 ‘마지막 카드’ [Joo Seong-Ha's North Korea Real Talk]
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at email@example.com.