Thursday, December 26, 2013

Slow News Week for North Korea

News has been kinda slow and repetitive in North Korea lately. I can review the three main topics that have come up, but there's not a lot of energy behind them. At best, maybe some of them hint at big things to come, but right now that's not clear to me.

Dennis Rodman
Paddy Power, Ireland. Image: CalvinAyre.com
Rodman has returned from his third trip to North Korea. Events were suboptimal in that he was unable to meet with Kim Jong Eun, and his sponsor has pulled out from further involvement. Rodman insists that meeting Supreme Leader was not the point of this trip, and he attempted to be coy about whether he'd seen the 32y.o. dictator, but we know Rodman. He craves attention and he loves to brag: if they'd met, we'd hear all about it.

Paddy Power, a large and popular Irish booking agency, has declined to underwrite any further trips to North Korea for Rodman. Regardless of why they thought sponsoring him was a good idea in the first place, they became aware of the international outrage at Rodman's stated disinterest in U.S. hostages or North Korea's voluminous history of human rights violations.

To add insult to injury, a few less-reputable news sources have been circulating a cheap and tired rumor that Jong Eun enticed Rodman to return to North Korea with promises of providing sexual partners. This feeds into Asian prejudice and insecurity centered on fetishizing African-American physical properties. Once again, I'm confident that if Rodman were scoring off the court in North Korea, he would not shut up about that either.

Jang Song Taek
Jang Song-Taek. Image: Associated Press
As I predicted, the story of the events precipitating Uncle Jang's execution would continue to unfold. Whether this is due to new and better intel being uncovered or a new wave of propaganda and official spin being transmitted, I cannot say. I only knew that anything I had read would be rewritten several times over.

And so it is: initially it was claimed Uncle Jang was attempting to ramp up his second coup. Famously, he was quoted as saying he hoped the nation's mounting poverty would drive the KPA to overthrow the Kim regime once and for all—damning words indeed. Along with Song Taek, several of his aides and supporters were executed, including a four-star general and the ruling KWP secretary. After this, Jong Eun reportedly got extremely drunk and ordered two more aides executed with antiaircraft machine guns. The official word, of course, was that Uncle Jang had succumbed to capitalist excesses and racked up some gambling debt (not in itself an executable crime), as DPRK didn't want to admit that anyone had the influence to upset the regime.

Then the theory was that Uncle Jang was simply a secondary target as Jong Eun intended to remove his own aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, from power. Allegedly, he wished to clean out all the old people from ruling the DPRK and wanted to bring in younger decision makers, but Uncle Jang presented a more convenient and excusable target than his blood relation.

The latest revelation is that Uncle Jang, a mastermind of networking and power-brokering, had cornered three lucrative money-making businesses: clams, crabs and coal. Not only was he amassing tremendous sums of money through these, but he was becoming too powerful for the comfort of anyone else in the DPRK. It seems there was a literal gun battle within North Korea's borders as Jong Eun ordered his undernourished and untrained KPA forces to physically seize the fishing territory Uncle Jang owned, and Jang's loyalists responded in force and devastated the soldiers. Add "treason" to the list of crimes.

Additionally, the military had formerly profited by selling coal to China, and the military is a viable political party by itself which no one can afford to offend. On the other hand, Uncle Jang's replacement as Number Two is Choe Ryong Hae, who is quite powerful but was a low-ranking KPA officer without a noteworthy record. He was stung in a 1998 scandal involving the Socialist Youth League, though the official record is that he was dismissed due to health issues. At any rate, he wants to keep his head down and has no interest in political climbing—though this technique is no guarantee for survival. It's theorized he may be the next to be purged, possibly due to his (former) close ties with Uncle Jang and Kyong Hui.

Speaking of, she is believed to have returned from treatment (possibly in Singapore) following heart failure and is back in the DPRK.

Saber-Rattling
Warning flyers from DPRK. Image: Segye.com
It started with North Korea threatening to bomb the hell out of Baekryeongdo, South Korea's northernmost island. This expanded—at least in western journalism—to encapsulate all border islands in the region. Then, antagonized by protests by conservative South Koreans, DPRK announced an unannounced attack on South  Korea "today or tomorrow". American readers found a little amusement in learning of a heated exchange of faxes between the two nations.

North Korea even threatened to focus a share of its ire on the U.S., when we started moving bombers to Guam in prep for collaborative training with South Korea. Guam is just over 2,000 miles southeast of North Korea; it's due east of the Philippines and almost directly south of Japan. Given that Japan and South Korea are in the way of Guam to North Korea, I have to guess that Jong-Eun just doesn't want further reinforcements amassed in that part of the ocean.

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