December 21, 2013

What’s going on in murky North Korea? I’ll bet even the US National Security Agency doesn’t know.

The world was shocked last week to learn that North Korea’s boyish dynastic leader, Kim Jong-un, has ordered the public arrest, then swift execution of his uncle by marriage, Jang Song-thaek. Jang was viewed as the North’s second most powerful person.

With usual gentle understatement, North Korea’s news agency called Jang a “despicable human scum.” His crime, it seems, was “trying to cover the sun (i.e. Kim Jong-un) with his hands.” Meaning angering the young sun king.

North Koreans must be very confused. Wasn’t the glorious Kim dynasty, which supposedly descended from the sun, sacred? How could a senior member be a “scum” and merit execution? A religious outrage.

Jang’s very public arrest and execution strongly suggested a grave power struggle in Pyongyang. Shooting your aunt’s husband, no matter how irksome he was, is a big no-no in traditional Buddhist culture, even in bizarre North Korea. It may have been more a sign of young Kim’s weakness than power.

As a long-time Korea watcher, I’m being asked to try to decipher the mysterious business in Pyongyang.

Jang was most likely plotting to oust the erratic young Kim with help from senior army officers. But that was only part of the story.

Behind Jang, I surmise, was big brother China. Jang was well known to be close to Beijing. He was a proponent of North Korea following China’s wildly successful capitalist economic reforms begun by its late great leader, Deng Xiaoping. But such reforms would run directly counter to the Juche (total self reliance) philosophy of North Korea’s founder and Kim’s god-like grandfather, Kim Il-sung.

China has clearly run out of patience with Kim Jong-un even though Beijing supplies all of the North’s oil and much of its food and arms.

The normally discreet Chinese regime has launched scathing criticism of close ally North Korea for its nuclear and missile tests and armed provocations of South Korea, an increasingly important trade and technology partner of China.

Beijing is very angry that Kim’s sabre rattling and immature bombast have allowed Japan, China’s bête noire, to begin building offensive forces just as the two nation’s are at daggers drawn over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

China just made a foolish blunder by creating a so-called air defense zone over the disputed islands (Japan has one there, too). Challenging China, the US promptly flew two unarmed B-52 bombers through China’s new ADZ. All Beijing did was fume and lose face while the Japanese had a big laugh.

North Korea’s warlike noises – even a threat to nuke the United States – were just hot air, but they gave the US a perfect excuse to move new air and naval units into or around the Korean Peninsula, which is very close to China’s important naval bases at Dalian and Lushun (former Russian Port Arthur), the back door to Beijing.

Pyongyang even attacked the withered Jang for “womanizing” and, far more important, for creating an economic catastrophe. This was a rare open admission that the North again faces economic melt down, even mass starvation.

North Korea’s descent into economic ruin is of enormous concern to Beijing and Seoul. A collapse of the Kim regime would lead to chaos and bloodshed across the north. South Korea dreads this event as “unanticipated reunification:” 25 million starving North Koreans pouring south. South Korea cannot afford to feed and rebuild North Korea as West Germany did with East Germany.

China worries the collapse of the North would lead to South Korea taking it over militarily. And that, to Beijing, means US bases in the North, next to Manchuria’s industrial heartland.

Japan would be no happier with Korean unification: a united Korea would one day be an even more serious trade competitor to Japan and, perhaps, even a military threat.

Beijing was happy with the Korean status quo until the unruly young Kim took power. China usually avoids interfering in its neighbors. But run out of patience, Beijing was probably behind a coup attempt led by Jang, or at least blessed it.

Kim Jong-un will now have to fend off the US, South Korea and China – a tall order even for a sun god.

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2013

This post is in: China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, USA

2 Responses to “KIM SHOWS HIS FANGS”

  1. I don`t think the sun god would jeopardize his own wellbeing by crossing up his only ally China. I don`t think north Korea is as poverty stricken as many in the west are led to believe. If even the CIA cannot get north Korea infiltrated in any meaningful way, why would we take all the stories in the western press at face value? Going by the information in the following video:
    which makes a lot of sense and is a good indicator of where the idea of capitalism is going and why it would be the the form of capitalism with the highest degree of democracy, where the western version is bound to end up in slavery, as it has to a great extent already.
    In the beginning of the cold war I fell for that propaganda then too, but when I saw the Gorbachevs on their visit to Ronnie`s US I knew, that the west almost had a monopoly on hot air. And in the political arena in Washington there are no signs of a cooling trend in that respect, but rather the opposite. And the Chinese did not become such a powerhouse by being stupid and short sighted. Their long range views reach further than those of the west. There is a clash of ideologies and the one most appealing to the masses is bound to survive.

  2. with his summary conviction and execution, something serious must have occurred, or it being North Korea, it was imagined that something serious must have occurred.
    I was not aware of the Buddist consideration that ” Shooting your aunt’s husband, no matter how irksome he was, is a big no-no in traditional Buddhist culture…” I cannot imagine this action being taken without some serious consideration and without any comment from the current leader’s advisors.

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