Now that Kim Jong Un has executed his own uncle-in-law, what do you think is in North Korea's future? What does Joo Seong-Ha think?
The Second Generation Vietnamese-American College Student
For those who do not follow North Korea-related news, this happened: Kim Jong-un, the fresh-faced third-generation dictator of North Korea, had his uncle-in-law executed. Jang Seong-taek, who joined the Kim family by marrying Kim Jong-Il's sister Kim Gyeong-hee, was widely seen as North Korea's No. 2 in power. No more--Jang was arrested in the middle of the Labor Party meeting, was "tried" plotting the overthrow of Kim Jong-Un before a military tribunal, and was executed within days of his arrest. Currently, it is believed that Jang's cohorts are meeting a similar fate of getting arrested and summarily executed.
Obviously, this is a huge deal. There are two North Korea-stories that can possibly be bigger: death of Kim Jong-Un, or North Korea's collapse. Naturally, Mr. Joo Seong-ha has been pushing out copious amount of writing. Although Mr. Joo's writings on topic are far too much to translate, they center around a single theme: North Korea is in serious disarray and may collapse soon. In particular, Joo points to the military tribunal's judgment over Jang, and notes how much North Korea is admitting its failure.
The judgment claims that Jang sought the help of the military to overthrow Kim Jong-Un; Jang thought the military may have been willing to assist him as North Korea's economic devastation gets worse. It also claims that Jang planted a number of followers in the high ranks of the North Korean regime. Even suggesting these would have been unthinkable under Kim Jong-Il--an indication, according to Mr. Joo, of how deep the rot in North Korean leadership class has reached.
Jang's execution also pushes the situation closer to my personal opinion regarding North Korea, formed upon Kim Jong-Il's death: North Korea will fall suddenly, unpredictably and uncontrollably. This may appear unlikely, but my opinion is that it is the most likely possibility when other options are considered. The personality cult that lends legitimacy to Kim Jong-Un's rule is barely holding on. North Korea's economy lies in ruin, and there is a vast chasm between
North Korea's current situation and any meaningful, Chinese-style reform
that may nurse North Korea toward stability. Yet, even as a long shot, reform would have been the only way forward for North Korea's long-term survival.
It would be outrageous to call Jang Seong-taek, who was as barbaric of a ruler as anyone in the North Korean regime, a reformer of any sort. However, any reform that would save North Korea would probably have come through Jang. He did have a sophisticated understanding of how the world works, and how North Korea is seen internationally. Jang visited South Korea in 2002, and was instrumental toward establishing the special economic zone in Rason. But North Korea now disavows Jang's attempts at reform; the military tribunal specifically noted in its judgment that Jang was "selling the nation" by establishing the special economic zone. With that pronouncement, North Korea banged shut another door when it could least afford to do so.
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at email@example.com.