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North Korea is a Crouching Hedgehog

Posted December. 14, 2004 22:05,   


“It is like a crouching hedgehog,” said Lee Kyo-deok, head of the North Korea research team at the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) about North Korea in 2004. In February 2004, North Korea held a national convention of ideology workers, the first of its kind in about 30 years. Since then, the North has been striving to continue its march of hardship, fighting against factors at home and abroad that might destabilize its regime.

Its Regime’s Crisis and Control-

The North Korean authorities have sought to keep control of its people’s ideology by stressing its unique “Juche” ideology, meaning self-reliance, and putting priority on its military during the convention. Its sixth revision of the criminal code on April 29 is seen as part of its effort to tighten its discipline on people that has somewhat loosened in the face of inter-Korean exchange, and to publicize its will to maintain its system. Regardless, the authorities could not thwart a massive influx of 468 North Korean defectors into South Korea at the end of July.

Some observers even say the strained inter-Korean relations and the North’s refusal to participate in the six-way talks resulted from a fear factor in the regime. North Korean Studies Professor Kang Seong-yoon at Dongkook University explained that “the shake-up of basic social foundations caused by some colossal events in the North like the demotion of Chang Seong Taik, North Korean Vice President of the Workers’ Party, and the death of Koh Young Hee, Kim Jong Il’s wife, and the U.S. Congress’ introduction of the North Korean Human Rights Law was responsible for the regime’s nuclear problems and strained relations between the two Koreas.”

The death of Song Ho Kyung, vice-president of the Chosun Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, in September 2004, followed by that of Kim Yong Soon, the secretary for affairs with South Korea, had a serious consequence on inter-Korean relationship. Some also cited the lack of a competent worker responsible for affairs with the South, and the regime’s failure to utilize relatively young leaders instead of older ones, as reasons for unsuccessful efforts to continue talks between the two Koreas.

An official from South Korea’s Ministry of Unification noted, “The North would abruptly cancel its soil analysis plans for the construction of a facility where separated families can meet, and negotiations regarding communications in the Gaesung industrial complex. There seem to be signs that the absence of a control tower in charge of affairs with the South is causing the unsuccessful performance of working departments responsible for relations with the South.”

Is a Successor Plan in Sight Sooner than Expected?-

Cheong Seong-jang, an inter-Korean relations researcher at Sejong Research Center, argues to have found a similarity between the North in 1974, when Kim Jong Il was appointed as Kim Il Sung’s successor, and the North in 2004.

Mr. Cheong’s explanation is that Kim Il Sung, the late former leader of North Korea, was 62 years old when Kim Jong Il was appointed as his successor, who happens to be 62 now. Moreover, right before his appointment, Kim Young Joo, then second most influential leader and head of the party’s organization direction team, disappeared from the political stage, and Chang Seong Taik’s was purged, a familiar move seen these days in the North.

Mr. Cheong predicted, “North Korea has already decided to opt for the post-Kim Jong Il era, and his successor is likely to be Kim Jung Cheol (23), the late Koh Young Hee’s oldest son. He went on to say, “The North Korean leader will officially announce the position of his successor in his party’s convention by revising its rules.”

However, an official from the Unification Ministry warned that “even though estimates are plausible that the regime will seek to stabilize its system by displaying its successor plan earlier than expected, there are no signs in sight yet that it has set any specific plans.”