Sympathy? Condolences? South Korea weighs response to Kim Jong-il's death.
Kim Jong-il vowed to turn Seoul into a 'sea of flames.' Not surprisingly, expressions of condolences on his death have been a subject of debate in South Korea.
Seoul, South Korea
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It was in that spirit, in the view of analysts here, that the government on Tuesday came out with an expression of “sympathy” for the North Korean people while refusing to send an official delegation to the funeral of the man whose regime vowed to turn this capital “into a sea of flames.”
“The government conveys sympathy to the people of North Korea,” was the curt comment of South Korea’s unification minister, Yu Woo-ik, after a cabinet meeting at which the proper level of grief was believed to be the main topic of discussion.
“They had problems selecting the right word,” says Choi Jin-wook, senior North Korea analyst at the Korea Institute of National Unification. “Saying nothing at this critical stage would be a problem. We have to say at least something.”
The sensitivity on how to respond to the death of Kim Jong-il reflects the deeper issue of whether it will be possible to reach an accommodation with a new regime whose direction and outlook remains a mystery here. North Korea has been calling Kim Jong-il’s third son, Kim Jong-un, “the great successor” for whom citizens should show “respect” and “loyalty,” but so far he has not been reported to have issued a single public utterance.
It’s partly to shield him from extremely curious foreign eyes in this critical time of transition, in the view of some observers, that no foreign delegations have been invited to North Korea for the funeral on Dec. 28. “They don’t want any rumors,” says Mr. Choi. “Most important is they have to control the situation. They don’t want any kind of foreign influence at this time.”
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At the same time, says Choi, the government fears the presence of foreign leaders, with retinues of assistants and security people, would be difficult to control while the people of the capital are in a paroxysm of universal grief as seen in scenes of weeping and wailing on North Korean television.
“When foreigners come to Pyongyang,” he observes wryly, “they have to take them to the right restaurant.”
While elevating the image of Kim Jong-un as the new leader, the inner circle surrounding him is believed to be uncertain as to how much authority he is capable of exercising, or how citizens outside the elite of the capital will view him.