Japan makes most of potential crack in North Korean monolith
LETTER FROM TOKYO:IS JAPAN looking for a backdoor diplomatic route to Pyongyang?
Take a bow North Korea. As a proportion of GDP, the isolated Stalinist backwater is one of the top medal earners in London.
The awesome sight of weightlifter Kim Eun-guk heaving three times his own body weight over his head may be the perfect image for the North’s gravity- defying Olympic campaign, straining every sinew to trounce its western rivals.
Few surprises about who is responsible for the medal haul, at least according to the North’s florid propaganda machine.
State media credits the “deep concern of leader Kim Jong Il and strength, courage and deep trust from the dear respected Kim Jong Un”!
Om Yun Chol, winner of the men’s 56kg weightlifting gold, added the “warm love” of the Kim duo as the key motive for his success.
The North’s government is of course less successful at feeding its people and keeping the lights on. Pyongyang has again requested emergency food aid from the United Nations, after 200,000 people reportedly lost their homes in summer flooding.
New evidence this week suggests the average North Korean is using less electricity now than in the early 1970s.
The World Food Programme is predicting a very difficult season until harvest in October, in a country where one in three children are reportedly chronically malnourished or stunted. Nobody, not even the western hawks waiting patiently for the eventual implosion of the Kim regime, wants a repeat of the devastating famines of the 1990s, when anywhere from one to 2.5 million people died.
So all eyes are on the young, untested Kim Jong Un, who took over from his father, Kim Jong Il, when he died last December.
In style at least, the son is a different man. Recent pictures of him and his new wife clapping along to a Disney-themed concert and enjoying a funfair rollercoaster ride are a clear attempt to show a leader with a lighter, more popular touch than his aloof father. More substantively, his sacking of the head of the North’s million-strong army seems to suggest that he is wrestling with the military for the balance of power.
So could Kim be trying to mollify the old guard while signalling Chinese-style economic liberalisation? No, says Leonid Petrov, professor of Korean Studies at the University of Sydney.
“It would be suicidal for Kim Jong-Un to start reform. He simply wants to create the illusion of reform. North Korea can only surrender. And this is what this ‘liberalisation’ will turn into.”