Coffee House

Whither North Korea after Kim Jong-il’s death?

19 December 2011

The photographs and video footage show North Koreans weeping in their
hundreds at the news of Kim Jong-il’s death. But the departed leader, immortalised by Team America as a song-prone loner, remained a mystery to both his people and outsiders alike.
He came to power after his father, North Korea’s founder Kim il Sung, died in 1994. Reliable biographical information about him is scarce. He rarely appeared in public and his voice was seldom
broadcast. What’s certain is that he spent lavishly on both luxuries and a nuclear programme, while millions of North Koreans starved.

Kim Jong-il’s death comes at an awkward moment. North Korea had just agreed to talks between US diplomat Robert King and his North Korean counterpart, Ri Gun, to suspend nuclear enrichment, a key
requirement to restart the Six Party Talks. The US representative for North Korea, Glyn Davies, was in fact due to visit Pyongyang this Thursday.
What happens now, however, is unclear. The US could offer a Myanmar-style engagement, but whether the new regime feels secure enough is the big question. The heir apparent Kim Jong-un takes over,
but is not yet fully groomed. He only rose to the rank of four-star general last year, in what was seen as a bid to extend the world’s only communist family dynasty to a third generation. Therefore
a collective leadership is likely to be established with strong string-pullers in the Party (such as Jang, Kim’s brother-in-law), and star-studded old generals from the army. Weary of being
seen as weak, they may shun any outside overtures and perhaps even stage some sort of military action, on top of the alleged "">missile tests this morning, to show their continued strength. South Korea’s military is on high alert,
given the risks associated with this transition period.
In all this, China’s role remains crucial. For Beijing, Kim Jong-il’s death is, as Asia expert Jonas Parello-Plesner notes, ‘a nuisance’. China faces its own succession shortly, and
would have preferred for the Korean peninsula to remain quiet. But that may be one of those New Year wishes, like peace on earth, that every hopes for but few think they will get.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    The South Koreans should send them a tanker load of kimchi. That’ll bring the buggers down.

  • Verity

    Now would be a good time for S Korea to make a move. Like anyone who has ever been there, I like the S Koreans enormously. Probably, the North is made of the same stuff, but has been tamped down. But the S Koreans are warm and friendly and have a very quick sense of humour. The North is a tragedy. They are as much the same people as were the Germans on both sides of the Berlin Wall.

  • Verity

    As Mark Steyn headlined his own post on this death: The Dong Is Ended, But The Malady Lingers On.

  • anne allan

    “Whither North Korea”? Given that most of the population subsist on grass, shouldn’t the ‘h’ have been omitted?

  • Ivan D

    What with both Hitch and Kim in the one week, it’s been a bad seven days for quotable Commies. Old Noam must be fingering his collar.

  • Gordy

    I read once that the lad had been educated in Switzerland and had a love of western music. That might augur well.

  • Jez


    I read (somewhere) that reunification would implode world markets and cause an economic catastrophe.

    Don’t know how true that would be?

    And David Lindsay, yes i agree. They are not faking it- just as my son’s goldfish doesn’t fake it as it bobs up and down every night when i put the light on for it’s fishfood.

    There’s a country of persecuted, tortured vegetables bobbing up and down in blue overalls- terminally enslaved in a hideous prisonland where the only light at the end of the tunnel is for their Stockholm syndrome to become evermore critical- all while on their knees praying to their physically inadequate Cult leader (now dead) as he, plus his inner circle find new and exciting ways of how to shit on them at ever increasing and violent ferocity.

    Yet another dream of result for the followers of Karl Marx. Again.

  • Verity

    Why wouldn’t now be a good time for S Korea to make a move towards re-unification? (I mean, if they want it. On second thoughts, bringing those people up to speed would be horrendously costly. Given how zippy S Korea is.)

  • Colin Cumner

    My God, it’s on a par with those weeping hordes who mourned Michael Jackson’s passing recently. Even if the grief is for real, what a performance, with the accent on the ‘if’. One tyrant gone, only another umpteen to go.

  • Augustus

    We’ll know soon enough if Kim Jong-un is as nutty as his dad, who, although crazy, was not stupid, witness how he persuaded the West to leap through hoops. What chance does the kid have with a dad like his?

    One thing certain: China will do what it can to harness North Korea not to be foolish and do something provocative that may jeopardize China’s commercial dealings with the developed world. That’s the good news. The bad news is another Son is also rising.

  • Axstane

    Strange – I could swear that Kim Jong Il scored for some soccer team over the weekend. I thought he was going to be anointed as the World’s Greatest Football Player to go with his title of World’s Greatest Golfer.

    The number of totally barmy communist and socialists kleptocrats is diminishing. Only the very sick Chavez, the embalmed Fidel Castro and the man with a caterpillar moustache remain.

    Of course there are still a few of the mad Arabs killing their citizens wholesale and god alone knows what goes on in Central and East Africa.

  • David Lindsay

    These weepers are wrong, but they are not faking it.

    Life for those permitted to live in Pyongyang is not bad by Second World standards. It is essentially that of Eastern European capital cities before 1989. In any case, those benefiting from it do not know any better, whereas they do know an awful lot worse.

    They are people who have stuck by the Kim dynasty and the Communist Party. The Kims and the Communists have stuck by them. Most people in North Korea are nothing like so fortunate. But the people weeping on the television truly are.

    Those who are taken aback by the existence of such mourners, or who imagine that Western intervention would improve matters in North Korea, plainly and simply need to grow up.

  • Jez

    Yes, great performance there from the News presenter….. i think her ‘korea’ is safe for the time being!

    (Ho Ho Ho!!! see what i did then!)

    No? You’re all Cavemen!

    Seriously, though. The presenter was probably having a meltdown just for the once in a ‘kor… sorry, ‘career’ opportunity to report a real news story instead of some constant state quota propaganda or another ‘factory’ being opened.

    What a Commie sh*thole.

  • Slim Jim

    The Emperor of the Dog Boilers is dead! Long live the Emperor! Uh, oh – I’ve just remembered the track record of other favourite sons of tyrants…Saif, Udi…

  • john gerard

    “Newscaster fights tears over Kim Jong-il’s death.”

    Surely you’re referring to a BBC newscaster?

  • Occasional Ostrich

    “Newcastle fights tears over Kim Jong-il’s death.”

    Crikey, I thought it was their striker they were talking about!

  • michael

    Stuff Strictly, this gets my vote … have they posted a number?

  • MI

    Salieri-your encomium for the great Korski is the best thing I’ve read for some time. Aside from the great man’s efforts, of course.

    Where were his usual “sources” when it came to this piece, though?

  • Jeremy

    Re: “Newscaster fights tears over Kim Jong-il’s death.”

    I think she should be nominated for this year’s ‘Best Performance in a Foreign Language Film’.

    And how satisfying to see a communist dictatorship embracing the heriditary principle…

  • Russell

    Strapworld. You can bet that our money will be going to North Korea, via the EU, as we seem to be sending money or guaranteeing money(IMF) or borrowing money to send to just about every country in the world,despite us being broke.

  • Tom Pride

    That is amateurish compared to the wailing and tearing of hair from our own organ, the once renown British Broadcasting Corporation, since Cameron’s use of the veto. Any semblance of impartiality blown to the winds in an amazing rear guard, damage limitation action. For those in any doubt (if your blood pressure can stand it), listen to Shaun Ley on the World This Weekend yesterday giving 12 minutes of leading Europhile, anti-UK government questions to an EC tax commissioner. Followed it up with some balance – an interview with that renown Euro sceptic member of the Government Mr Cable – who was by comparison was a modicum of impartiality.

    The BBC and North Korea – strange but comfortable bedfellows. As Guido says, “Kim Gone Hell” to them both.

  • strapworld

    North Korea twinned with the EUSSR.

    Perhaps we should send Rumpy Pumpy on a goodwill visit for a few years?

  • Nicholas

    Communist emperors – don’t you just love them. Gordon Brown must have been so disappointed not to have been able to found a Kim Il Broon dynasty here. Not for want of trying. Maybe Mil I Ban will have better luck.

  • Andy Carpark

    (5) *

  • Andy Carpark

    (4) facing north, showing music videos from scantily-clad South Korean girl bands. I think this is entirely splendid.

  • Andy Carpark

    (3) A. The defence ministry in Seoul is planning — this is not a joke — to erect giant screens along the demilitarised zone,

  • Andy Carpark

    (2) Q. What’s been the best bit of news you’ve heard lately?

  • Andy Carpark

    (1) From an interview with the one and only Mr Eugenides

  • Dennis Churchill

    And we think the Middle East is weird and dangerous.

  • Kim Jong Dead

    I told you I was ‘il’…

  • Charlie

    Having been to North Korea only two months ago, I doubt anything will change

    To the people, Kim Jong Il is not that relevant – the focus is on the President Kim Il Sung (who conveniently is dead, making it hard to depose).

    The real worry is how much Kim Jong Un feels he needs to flex his muscles, and use the military to do so

  • salieri

    When the tragic news was announced this morning, one just knew that the Spectator would turn to the only analyst whose insight, experience and coruscating prose, belying his tender years, are capable of rising to such momentous global events and illuminating the profundity of our ignorance. We should all pause to reflect on what we have been lucky enough to learn this morning.

    And, Jez, we should also be gratified that the BBC has shown North Korean newsreaders the way, for example when reporting the summer riots and autumn Occupations – all those disadvantaged and angry young people let down by society’s uncaring, materialistic work-ethic. Telemachus must be so proud of Fiona Bruce and Evan Davies.

  • anyfool

    Jez only if things go to plan otherwise she could end up as a comfort pioneer if she is really lucky, still she will be a good performer either way i reckon

  • aristeides

    “The world’s only communist family dynasty”.

    Psst, don’t tell the Castro’s they aren’t considered communist any more.

  • Austin Barry


    Indeed, she may even be rewarded with a few extra slivers of rat meat in her daily rations.

  • Jez

    That news presenter won’t be going anywhere near a labour camp soon with that performance.

    Well done love!

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