Kim Jong Il Regime in 2007

[imText1]Kim Jong Il is a man of tactics rather than that of strategy.

Kim Jong Il has been very good at overcoming a short-term obstacle and earning profit from it; for example, there are 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework and the recent 2.13 Beijing Agreement. Kim Jong Il succeeded in exploiting GOP loss of midterm election in US and Iranian nuclear crisis.

Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state under George W. Bush, praised Kim Jong Il as a “smart man who can win with lower hand.” Kim Jong Il has uncanny sense of when to strike and how to act quickly. He had refused to talk for a year since North Korea’s illegal activities with the Macao bank got attention of the US government after 9.19 Joint Communiqué and turned the tide by conducting nuclear test.

In fact, North Korea’s nukes and illegal financial activities are totally different issues. Kim Jong Il, however, connected the two issues and asked the US to abandon anti-North Korea policy as a whole.

As it turned to March, Kim accelerates race to normalization of US-NK relationship. East Asia would, once again, be forced to stage a ‘peace drama’ among US, North and South Korea. NK’s vice minister of foreign affairs Kim Kye Gwan told reporters on Friday on his way Pyongyang from China that Washington promised to solve the BDA conflict and normalize the diplomatic relationship.

It is hard to predict until when such peaceful mood would continue; maybe by the end of disablement process of nuclear facility in Yongbyon, at minimum. Throughout the process, inter-Korean peace would intensify with talks, joint events and even North-South summit. It is obvious that Kim Jong Il included South Korean presidential election in 2007 into his calculation.

Kim, lack of ability of strategic decision

However, Kim Jong Il never thinks strategically, how to run a state and people in a broad sense. If he were a strategic person, Kim should have imitate Deng Xiaoping’s open and reform policy in late 1970s or eastern Europe’s perestroika and glasnost in early 1990s. China, since its own market-oriented reform, has always been ready to support similar move by North Korea, thus Kim could have learned well from Chinese experience only if he made a strategic move. But Kim Jong Il did not.

And he seems not yet ready to reform. North Korea’s marketization throughout last decade is done by people rather than by government. North Korean state does not have a blueprint of reform but retains military dictatorship.

For North Korea to follow predecessors of market reform such as China and Vietnam, Kim Jong Il’s decision is essential. In totalitarian regime like that in Pyongyang, it is an indispensable condition. If Kim Jong Il really wants reform, he can be sponsored by Beijing, while still being alienated by Washington. Of course, if North Korea gets endorsement from the US, gives up its nuclear ambition and start reform policy, it can’t be more welcoming. Nevertheless, Kim Jong Il’s will to do so is very unclear.

Sharply changing East Asian political atmosphere now is both similar and dissimilar with what was going on around 2000.

In 2000, Kim Jong Il met with leaders in Beijing and Seoul. In addition to that, Kim’s most trusted Cho Myong Rok, chief political commissar of KPA, visited Washington and met President Bill Clinton, and, in return, secretary of state Albright came to Pyongyang to talk to Kim Jong Il. Clinton invited Kim Jong Il to Washington and planned his own travel to Pyongyang, which were never realized.

At this point, it is still unknown why Kim refused Clinton’s invitation. Kim Jong Il’s visit to US could mean the end of more than five decades old enmity between the two countries and initiation of peace-building process in Korean Peninsula. Kim Jong Il might have considered this too hasty a move. Moreover, the United States was in the middle of presidential election in 2000.

However, more fundamental problem for Kim Jong Il was that he could not accept the symbol of him visiting Washington.

Kim has never visited a free country. Since he became Kim Il Sung’s successor, he has only visited China and Russia.

Kim Jong Il’s visit to the US could imply a catastrophic meaning upon himself; it is same as a “self denial” for a totalitarian dictator like Kim Jong Il. Once he normalizes the US-DPRK relationship and meets with a US president, he could never turn back to the old seclusion. Although it is possible to continue normalization of diplomatic relations without official visit, two countries would eventually need a political gesture like handshake between president of the US and Kim Jong Il. And Kim fears the outcome of such decision.

What Kim Jong Il really wants

Establishing diplomatic relationship with Washington would be very attractive Kim if he can still keep his dictatorship, nuclear weapons while destroying US-South Korea military alliance. Possibility of his dream, however, is in question.

Anti-American sentiment has been one of the most important factors of North Korean regime. People are brainwashed with anti-American slogan and hatred against the US has been the key factor of class-struggle principle and Suryeong (the leader) dictatorship in North Korea. If the relationship between two foes is really normalized, Kim’s dictatorship and North Korean people might be hit by the worst psychological blow for fifty years. And for Kim Jong Il, significance of keeping his dictatorship is unquestionably more critical than that of setting normal relationship with Washington.

Then what are all these sudden changes between North Korea and United States? To get the correct answer, what Kim Jong Il needs right now must be considered.

For now, Kim desperately needs the end of international financial sanctions, cash, food, energy and peaceful mood in inter-Korean relations aimed at South Korea’s presidential election in 2007.

Kim Jong Il would take advantage of the current situation to 1) finish international sanctions, 2) propagandize “inter-Korean peace” over South Korea, 3) receive as much aid from Seoul as possible (it is expected that South Korea would literally pour aid to the North this year), 4) press Japan to pay WWII compensation by using improved US-NK relations, and finally 5) continue economic aid from China.

Normalization talk of US-DPRK relationship is the key and the rest five are subordinate. Kim Jong Il will exploit the talk with Washington to satisfy his goal.

Necessity to apeal North Korean population about “US-NK talk information”

Then what about establishing diplomatic ties between Pyongyang and Washington? It is only a fantasy. In a propaganda war, creating a fantasy is the first thing to do. People will follow the fantasy. Kim Jong Il is an expert in propaganda warfare and he knows importance of fantasy. Kim is showing a fantasy of US-DPRK normalization talk to the people of South Korea, Japan, China and United States.

However, there are some other spectators left out of Kim’s fantasy movie; North Korean people. It would be decisively disadvantageous for Kim Jong Il if North Korean people watches Kim’s fantasy movie of US-DPRK talks. If the news of two country’s diplomatic relationship reaches North Korean people, it will inevitably create unrest among people and hope for reform. North Korean state media’s call shut down of nuclear facilities as “temporary discontinuation,” no broadcast of New York talks between US diplomats and NK delegates or order of return among diplomats’ children abroad; all of this measure indicate Kim Jong Il’s resolution not to allow North Korean people to watch what’s going on between North Korea and the US. Kim might have already told his most trusted officials and bureaucrats “not to have an illusion of reform although US-DPRK talks could go on for a while.”

Thus, Kim Jong Il is likely to terminate the normalization talk with the US by blaming a certain other factor after receiving enough aid.

There is no evidence yet that Kim Jong Il made a strategic decision to normalize US-DPRK relations and then to reform toward market-oriented economy. Nonetheless, everybody in Seoul is excited. Kim’s short-term tactics of propaganda is well working, at least for now.

Our task must be a countermove against Kim’s tactics. It is necessary to inform North Korean people what is going on between US and NK. Private radio broadcasters need to let the North Koreans know the truth that can never be heard from the state media. North Korean people must recognize the real situation of US-NK talks and prospect of reform, which are what Kim Jong Il does not want them to know.