After Kim Jong-il funeral: collapse or continuity for North Korea?
As North Korea mourns during Kim Jong-il's funeral, South Koreans are reminded of the dangers of their unstable and poor sibling nation.
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That’s the conventional view among analysts as China steadily increases its influence over the North. Reports here are that China is assiduously spreading propaganda, claiming among other things, that the Korean national dish, kimchi, a spicy confection of pickled cabbage and other vegetables, actually came from China.Skip to next paragraph
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“The Chinese strategy, no matter what, is to occupy North Korea,” says Chang Han-jin, a salesman. “China will send troops or aid to North Korea if necessary to make sure of their power there.”
Shim Jae-hoon, a long-time political consultant here, agrees. “China is interested in propping up the regime whatever comes,” he says. “I don’t see any sign of North Korea cracking up. The more North Korea is dependent on China, the better it is for them.”
Strongman or friend?
Still, speculation here tends to focus on a question other than collapse – whether Kim Jong-un will assert himself as a strongman or adopt a conciliatory policy toward his people as well as South Korea and the US.
“There’s no other option for him but to be more cooperative with the outside world,” says Paik Hak-soon, senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, a think tank here. In the quest for food aid from South Korea and the US, both of which stopped shipments of food in 2008, Mr. Paik predicts that Kim will be open to negotiations on suspending the nuclear weapons program that was probably his father’s most obvious legacy.
Paik acknowledges, though, North Korea does not want to “to appear weak and bow to pressure,” particularly in view of the power of the generals with whom Kim Jong-un might eventually come into conflict.
Kim Jong-un, like his father before him, is now “supreme commander” of the armed forces, but some observers believe he may find the military holds the final power.
“If he goes the wrong way, they’ll push him back,” says Tim Peters, a missionary with long experience here dealing with refugees from the North. “Word is he was more harsh than his father when he was taking over security services” – and ordered the executions of defectors who had fled to China and then sent back by Chinese authorities, says Mr. Peters.
People here are aware of the existence of vast prison camps in North Korea and the depths to which North Korea has fallen economically, but hardly want to consider the implications of the downfall of the regime.
“I don’t want to think about it,” says Moon Su-jin, working in a travel agency here. “It’s too scary.”
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