Monday, May 23, 2011

Political Scenario in North Korea

Last year we learned of the ascendancy of Kim Chong- eun as the new leader of North Korea, ushering in what many believe will be a shared leadership with his father Kim Chong-il. Writing for the Catholic Magazine, a member of the Catholic Bishops Committee for Reconciliation of Peoples leaves us with some thoughts on the implications of this new political scenario in the North.

We are told that the political system will be strengthened but that the chances for discord and complications will also increase.  Setting up new political structures, he says, will entail a generational shift that will very likely  upset many of those who were in power under Kim Chong-il. For there to be a peaceful transfer of power, the writer believes that Kim Chong-eun will have to surmount three difficulties.

First, what will happen if Kim Chong-il, because of his frail health is not able to rule for the next three years? Chong-eun does not have the experience to govern nor has he the chance to grow in the job like his father. And yet, he will have to show that he is capable of running the country.

Secondly, how is he going to strengthen the extreme fragility of the government? For the last 20 years, the North has not been able to solve its economic difficulties, depending on others for survival. In order to eke out a living the citizens have put in place the beginnings of a market economy, which is now flourishing without any government control. This has  made  more evident the weakness of the government's policies, particularly the failure of their economic policy, which has for many years angered the populace. This will be a serious problem for the future.

Thirdly, a potentially major problem is overcoming  the family succession policy of the North. The officials see Kim Chong-eun as too young to govern but have little recourse but to adopt a "what can you do" attitude; the intelligentsia and the middle class are relatively critical, while most of the citizens are merely spectators. They just want enough to eat, and many are not getting enough. Under Chong-eun, things have not gotten any better. This will also be a problem for the future.

With the recent currency reforms in the North, the financial condition has worsened. And the question of food shortages is a serious concern. The government is trying to get countries to send more food, and also allowing the export of goods that in the past were restricted in order to gain foreign exchange, such as gold, silver, bronze, iron and other minerals. It seems clear they don't have the foreign exchange to buy what they need. And even if they do import the food, those who need it the most don't have the money to buy it.

The situation in the North is clearly getting worse, but many say the system that was in place under Kim Chong-il will not change under his son, but will continue for the near future. The long range outlook is that change will have to come, and  South Korea will have to prepare for that eventuality.

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