North Korea’s Internal Situation
The Succession System
Since reports of Kim Jong Woon’s designation as the successor to Kim Jong Il were released by Yonhap News in January, some detailed information has been largely confirmed by various inside sources. More than 20 official decrees related to the successor have been handed down to Party organizations and competent offices, and all have been confirmed by several sources from diverse locations, all of whom have come to Daily NK’s attention by various routes.
Therefore, future analysis of the North Korean situation should now be based upon the established facts of Kim Jong Woon’s succession.
The designation of a successor in North Korea means: first, North Korea can significantly reduce the potential for chaos and risk which would accompany Kim’s death without a designated successor; and second, Kim Jong Il can gradually transfer his tasks to his successor, so North Korea’s policies and political strategies can be influenced by Kim Jong Woon. However, there may be differences between Kim Jong Il and Jong Woon’s opinions and ruling style, so conflicts could arise if Jong Woon were to deal with those differences poorly.
We need to keep in mind Jong Woon’s age; at 26 he is far too young to become an adept politician. Politicians should have a broad range of abilities, judgment seasoned by experience and capable supporting personnel in the background. Therefore, his youth represents a substantial obstacle.
Kim Jong Il’s Health
It appears to be true that Kim received treatment for a stroke last year, according to U.S. and South Korean intelligence organizations. Although other claims regarding his afflictions cannot be confirmed, it is clear that his health is deteriorating rapidly. The possibility of his surviving in the long-term is low.
In the North Korean system, power and authority are concentrated in the hands of one person, Kim Jong Il, so if he were to die or fall into a coma, especially without a hand-picked successor, the system could be gravely compromised.
The North Korean People
Based on an analysis of those North Korean people who come and go across the border with China, and other people in North Korea to whom we have access, we can see that the daily life and political awareness of the average North Korean citizen has changed.
First of all, the average North Korean’s diet is stable by comparison with the 1990s. Although in some provincial areas there remain persons who die of starvation, the number and their influence upon society as a whole is not great.
However, since the gap between rich and poor has widened, a phenomenon which has been widely publicized, the sense of real and relative poverty and the resultant complaints of citizens have increased.
Beyond the simple aims of life, a passion for prosperity is spreading all over North Korea. Making money has become the most main motivation for the people.
Since the late 1990s, loyalty to Kim Jong Il, faith in North Korean “socialism” and other ideological trends have grown exceedingly weak. Lately, the people’s faith has become shallower than ever before.
There has not been any instability in public sentiment as serious as that which accompanied the power shift in the 1990s following the death of Kim Il Sung. (In reality the power shift was conducted in the 1980s, but that fact was not known to the North Korean people.)
Cases of defection where the stated motivation is to seek food or work have also decreased, compared with earlier this century.
However, although people’s faith and loyalty are much reduced, the phenomenon has not developed into any form of organized resistance to the system. This could be because North Korea’s repressive infrastructure is still functioning, and/or the people have not been provided with a clear vision of an alternative future life or society yet. (to be continued)