Members of the National Assembly, as you asked about the reality of North Korea as seen through the Kim Jong-un regime today I will talk about 1. The Vulnerability of the Kim Jong-un regime 2. Kim Jong-un’s policies for rejuvenating North Korean society 3. His responses to South Korea and 4. The responsibilities of South Korean politicians.
The vulnerability of the Kim Jong-un regime
1.1 The lack of legitimacy and justification of Kim Jong-un’s ‘Baektu bloodline’
The North Korean system is a unique social system that combines the concepts of Communism and Confucianism. In Confucianism, legitimacy and justification are the basics. Thus while everything in North Korea seems reckless, in reality legitimacy and justification are emphasized. And while the inheritance of the North Korean regime by Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un is a common factor, there is a considerable difference in the succession process ie the hereditary succession.
1.1.1. The Differences in Kim Jong-il’s ‘Bottom-up Succession of Power’ and Kim Jong-un’s ‘Top-down Succession of Power’ and the Effects on the North Korean Regime
18.104.22.168. Kim Jong-il’s ‘Bottom-up Succession of Power’
Even before Kim Jong-il was officially nominated as Kim Il-sung’s successor, for over a decade between the late 1960s to 1970s, Kim Jong-il was committed to building up supporting forces in the Party and within the Kim family in order to become the heir apparent to the North Korean regime.
During this period, he drove out his uncle Kim Yong-joo, Kim Il-sung’s second wife Kim Song-ae and her siblings, and his own half-brothers and sisters from any important positions in North Korea.
As a result, when Kim Il-sung officially named Kim Jong-il as his successor, the Workers’ Party of Korea explained that Kim Jong-il’s abilities as a successor had been proven during his ten years at the Central Committee.
Furthermore, as the son of the ‘Leader of the Partisans and Anti-Japanese Heroine’, Kim Jong-il’s pure blood ancestry was a crucial element of his identity. The fact that Kim Jong-il was the eldest son of Kim Il-sung was the decisive factor that made it possible for Kim Jong-il to drive out his out uncle Kim Yong-ju and his half-brother Kim Pyong-il.
Primogeniture in which the firstborn son is giving priority, is so deeply rooted in North Korean society that it was the basis of legitimacy and justification for Kim Jong-il to become the successor and was also the factor that allowed Kim Jong-il to receive support from Kim Il-sung’s fellow partisans and family members. Eventually, Kim Jong-il’s succession was one that was ‘bottom-up’.
When Kim Il-sung died in 1994, the world expected that North Korea would not be able to last much longer without a leader. However, this was a prediction that was made without truly understanding North Korea. When I was admitted to the International Relations University in April 1980, the leader of North Korea was already Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung’s position was merely a symbolic one.
22.214.171.124. Kim Jong-un’s ‘Top-down Succession’
However, Kim Jong-un’s succession began in early 2009 after Kim Jong-il began to recover from his stroke in the autumn of 2008, and thus his succession is one of a ‘top-down succession.’
While Kim Jong-il embedded the statement that ‘the revolution is continued by the family line and the victory in the revolution is secured by the successor’ into the party policy; the fact that the Workers’ Party of Korea which stresses legitimacy and justification dealt with the successor issue with such haste is incredibly unique.
126.96.36.199.1. Kim Jong-un’s existence hidden from the North Korean people and cadres
It was at the end of 2008 that Kim Jong-chul and Kim Jong-un who had been hidden for so long, began to be brought out and introduced to Kim Jong-il’s close aides. In the beginning of 2009, the phrase ‘Respected General’ began to spread and the ‘Footsteps’ theme song began to be played.
At first, it was just the phrase ‘Respected General’ that was said, but not the name. Then slowly, it was revealed that his name was Kim Jong-un and it was in September 2010 that he was officially appointed as the successor in the Workers’ Party Members’ Meeting.
It appeared as if this had been in the hurriedly works over the past two years.
However, unlike Kim Jong-il, even though Kim Jong-un has been in power for over five years, he is still unable to disclose his birth date, education or any information about his family including his mother’s identity.
188.8.131.52.2. A grave with no name or gravestone: Five years of ruling and Kim Jong-un is unable to reveal his mother’s name
According to South Korean media, Kim Jong-un’s mother’s name is Ko Yong-hui or Ko Young-hee.
However, even I don’t know Kim Jong-un’s mother’s real identity.
Since the death of Kim Jong-il in 2011, the WPK and North Korean authorities have celebrated Kim Jong-un’s mother’s birthday and paid respect at the grave of ‘The Mother of Great Songun Korea’ located in Mt. Taesong on the day of her death.
However, unusually there was no name on the gravestone but instead it just says ‘The Mother of Great Songun Korea.’ I am not sure whether they have put the name on the gravestone now, but up until autumn of 2012 there was no name engraved.
Up until I defected in March 2016, North Koreans were taught the revolutionary history of Kim Jong-un ahead of the 7th Party Congress.
However, even in the lecture materials on Kim Jong-un’s revolutionary activities that were sent abroad, his mother’s name did not appear.
What this tells us that while Kim Jong-un tells the North Korean people that he is the legitimate heir as he is of the Baektu bloodline, the fact that his mother was one of the many women of Kim Jong-il and that he has brothers in the many other families that Kim Jong-il made is a great psychological burden to Kim Jong-un.
In fact, Kim Jong-un’s existence was not even known amongst members of the Kim Il-sung family.
From what I heard, until the late 1980’s Kim Jong-il used to take his official wife Kim Young-sook and their daughters to the Mangyongdae Family during Lunar New year.
And so, it is only natural that there is an air of curiosity surrounding Kim Jong-un and his family.
Koreans have a uniqueness, different to other cultures where whenever we make new acquaintances we want to know all about them such as their age, hometown, parents and their education.
Out of these, age is the most important. According to age we can know whether we have to use honorifics or can speak freely.
For Kim Jong-un, the psychological pressure of how he is seen by the North Korean authorities who know that his mother was not the official wife of Kim Jong-il has been building up.
184.108.40.206.3. ‘Mother of Songun Korea’- The Film
In 2012, Kim Jong-un made a promotional documentary film about his mother enitled ‘Mother of Songun Korea’ and showed it to a small number of state officials.
However, upon watching the film, the officials predicted that there would be a great upheaval in North Korean society and thus it was not released.
Eventually the film was leaked and it came out on USB, and North Koreans were told to hand themselves in if they had watched it, and on top of this, several people from the Korean Central Broadcasting Committee were executed.
The film eventually made its way overseas and can now be seen on Youtube.
So, what will happen if North Koreans find out that Kim Jong-un has an older brother, Kim Jong-nam and that Kim Jong-il had children with many women such as Song Hye-rim, Kim Young-sook and Ko Yong-hui?
I doubt that Kim Jong-un will leave his older brother Kim Jong-nam alone.
(Within one month of giving this lecture, Kim Jong-nam was assassinated at Kuala Lumpar International Airport in Malaysia on February 13, 2017.)
1.1.2. The shock of Jang Sung-thaek’s assassination
The biggest vulnerability out of all of Kim Jong-un’s vulnerabilities is that fact that he publicly executed his uncle, Jang Sung-thaek.
This is going to be a big achilles’ heel to Kim Jong-un in the future.
After the sudden announcement of Jang Sung-thaek’s execution on the Rodong Shinmun, nobody said a word about Jang Sung-thae even in the markets for up to three days.
Perhaps the biggest shock was that Jang Sung-thaek, who was Kim Il-sung’s son-in-law, was a womaniser.
North Koreans were enraged upon finding this out stating that, what more could you need if you were married to Kim Il-sung’s wife?
Rumours began to spread that Jang Sung-thaek had enough children to fill a bus.
Many celebrities such as the actress from ‘Trunks Grow from the Roots’ were arrested and disappeared.
The chief director of Obongsan political prison camp who was a hero of labour was also arrested.
According to word on the street, the chief of the political prison camp would cremate all the women that Jang Sung-thaek had been involved with and killed.
The head teacher of the Geumsung high school in Mangyongdae Area was also arrested.
Rumours began to spread that all the girls that had been picked to be a part of the 5th Section of the Party were used as playthings by Jang Sung-thaek, and parents began to worry that their daughters would also be taken away by the 5th section.
It was through the execution of Jang Sung-thaek that the North Korean people were able to see the reality of the real and rotten ‘Baektu bloodline.’
1.2. The Collapsing Control System
North Korea is a society that is maintained through political organizational life, the blocking of external information, control of movement and the constant indoctrination.
However, each of these elements are beginning to weaken.
1.2.1. Weakening of Political Organizational Life
The foundation of North Korea’s political organizational life is self-criticism and criticism of others.
While it has been a long time since this function has weakened outside the capital, nowadays even members of prominent organs like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Pyongyang do not participate in criticism of others.
During the time that I was the Section Party Secretary in the European Faction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2009 to early 2013 nobody participated in the criticism of others that I would spend Saturdays just organizing the Party Meeting Record Books. I’m not sure how things went exactly during the Quarterly Party Criticism Sessions during the time I entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1988. But what I know is that everybody enthusiastically participated in the criticism sessions.
In 1992 Kim Jong-il put forward a Party Organizational Chart and reviewed Kang Sok-ju, the First Vice Foreign Minister. When Kang Sok-ju stood on the criticism stage, many women began to cry as they participated in the criticism of him and as he was convicted.
However, as people no longer participate in the criticism sessions, nowadays the party secretary will gather the sectional head, director and vice-director the day before the quarterly criticism sessions to organize what will be said in the criticism sessions. That’s when people start to bring cigarettes and cash to staff members of the party committee asking them to be exempt from the criticism list.
Choe Hui, who was the Vice Minister of the Organization and Guidance Department at the time, carried out the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ quarterly criticism sessions. During the breaks the committee would warn people to stop falling asleep in front of the Vice Minister. Everybody falls asleep during the meetings, and usually the party secretary pretends not to notice and just reads from the lecture materials. Now they say that people will be expelled from the party for falling asleep during meetings. In fact there were so many party members that kept falling asleep during the 7th Party Congress in May 2016, even in the presence of Kim Jong-un, that they lowered the temperature of the room to 14 degrees and turned up the air conditioning that many caught a cold and fell ill.
It was even reported the media that the Political Head and director of the Ministry of Railways in Pyongyang were called out for being anti-party and expelled from the party with eventually one of them committing suicide.
The fact that this is the reality of the 7th Party Congress where the highest officials in North Korea are gathered, what do you think things are like outside the capital?
1.2.2. Weakening of the Blockage of External Information
Once Kim Jong-un rose to power he declared war on explicit videos. ‘Bureau 109’ was created, an organization specializing in cracking down on materials from the [South] Korean wave. However, even the crackdown activities of Bureau 109 are just strategies to make money. Now, there’s a price on everything- if you are arrested for watching South Korean films at home then it’s a few thousand dollars, another amount if South Korean games or books are found on your phone or if texts are written in a South Korean style.
In the case of university students, they have a parent-teacher conference once every six months where they are told about crackdowns but they are no where close to completely eradicating illegal videos. There are so many South Korean words used by the younger generation these days such as ‘Sweetheart (ja-gi-ya)’, ‘Brother (oppa)’, that it’s not possible to control it anymore.
There isn’t a single North Korean that I know that has not seen a South Korean movie.
Drugs and the Korean Wave are the two things that North Korea is unable to control.
1.3. Weakening loyalty of the Elites
Lots of people have asked me what are the differences between the Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un regimes? Even when Hwang Jang-yop came to South Korea, he said that it wouldn’t be long until North Korea collapsed. However, North Korea has managed to sustain itself and in fact what we can see is the establishment of the Kim Jong-un regime.
So can we really say that people’s perspectives of the North Korean regime are changing?
The Arduous March during Kim Jong-il’s rule was the first economic crisis that the North Korean regime had to endure after the Korean War, but the North Korean people thought if we could arise from the ashes of the War, this is something we can get through.
Kim Jong-il knew that socialism is a science. He said that the difficulties in the 1990’s was not the result of the Party’s policy failures but rather a crisis that was being faced by the East-European bloc and showed scenes of economic crisis felt by the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe on the television.
Within a few years, other countries in the Eastern bloc were able to recover from the economic crisis and were back on track. However, it was only North Korea that was unable to break out from the economic crisis for 20 years.
In fact North Korea is now dispatching their workers to earn money to countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Angola- countries that used to be recipients of aid from North Korea.
Now North Korean state officials have started question whether this was what their revolution was about.
The thought that this slave-like existence has to continue for another 30 to 40 years is simply appalling.
State officials that are caught up in Kim Jong-un’s fear politics are keeping their distance under the notion that they will ‘get burnt if they fly too close to the sun but also freeze if they are too far away.’
There were many state officials that were also executed at the time that Jang Sung-thaek was executed but all for ambiguous reasons. It was the first time that the Party Administration Section, an entire section in the Party, has been completely massacred.
In the eyes of the state officials, North Korea no longer has a future and have begun to secretly gather their own stash of US dollars. Now none of the children of state officials want to be a part of departments like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.Once state officials have the power they want to send their children to organs where they can earn foreign currency. Now it’s no longer the party that is in the hearts of state officials, but the dollar.
1.4. The absence of Policy
When Kim Jong-un came into power, many people were in anticipation of new changes.
But now, five years into the Kim Jong-un regime, it is clear that even Kim Jong-un is unable to escape from the shadows of Kim Il-sung or Kim Jong-il. Kim Jong-un is well aware that his current party policies do not match up to reality, but he also knows that if he decides to shake things up, it will be the end for him. The current North Korea is not a socialist state but is in fact a capitalist society in primitive regression.
1.4.1. Failure of Luxurious Construction Projects
What North Korea really needs right now is basic and social overhead capital such as energy, food and infrastructure.
Instead what Kim Jong-un did when he arose to power was start luxurious construction projects such as the Munsu Waterpark, Kaeson Youth Park, Ryugyong hotel, Rungrado Park and Masikryong Ski Resort. Despite building all these amusement parks, many North Koreans do not even get a chance to stop by. In fact, if they were to visit, there would be an uproar stating that all their electricity had been stripped away.
1.4.2. Failure of the economic policies
The current North Korean economy is a hybrid of the socialist economy through the state-driven arms and heavy industry, chemical industry and infrastructure projects and the capitalist economy through the markets (jangmadang). However, there are currently no policies nor legal instruments to support the current economic system.
North Korea is a society which is dependent on sustaining Kim Jong-un’s ‘god-like’ image.
North Korea’s current economic laws are all differentiated based on Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il’s writings. If economic laws are not announced through Kim Jong-un’s writings, they have no effect.
Let me give one example:
There was an issue regarding the payment of delay fees from foreign trade ships at harbours. An order was given by Kim Jong-un to receive delay fees in foreign currency at the harbour. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs brought up the fact that the goods that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs receives at the harbour are ones provided through humanitarian assistance, and as delay fees cannot be taken it was exempted. Then the arms industry said that a delay fee cannot be imposed on arms and were exempt, which was then followed by Bureau 39 saying that they too cannot gather delay fees in the form of foreign currency. And through different orders a new law that had been implemented was dissolved within a month.
That is why there is now the mindset that as it policies are always changing, all they need are dollars.
1.4.3. A cash-obsessed military
Currently, the army is living under the motto of ‘Let’s take care of the socialist construction as well as the protection of our country!’ And taking what they can from other North Koreans. The majority of apartments in Pyongyang worth tens of thousands of dollars have been built by soldiers which are then in turn sold to the moneyed class (donju). The commanders of corps and divisions are more obsessed with earning money than they are training their soldiers. It can be said that the North Korean army resembles Chiang Kai-shek’s National Revolutionary Army or the South Vietnamese Army right before they were defeated. North Korea’s market is changing from ‘grasshoppers’ to ‘ticks’.
Now this all sounds like North Korea is about to collapse any day now. However, Kim Jong-un has begun to evolve his own responses to solve these issues.
Kim Jong-un’s Strategy in Stabilizing his Regime
2.1. An imitation of the Kim Il-sung regime
Kim Jong-un is trying to imitate his grandfather Kim Il-sung. He is well aware that people are nostalgic of the days under Kim Il-sung’s rule.
In his 2017 New Year’s Address Kim Jong-un stated that the days when they used to sing that there was ‘Nothing to Envy’ is not just a moment in history but promised to make it a reality of today. What he means is that he wants to rewind back to 50 years ago. From his clothes to his physique, the 30-something Kim Jong-un is imitating how Kim Il-sung looked in his 60’s. He is mirroring Kim Il-sung’s image in the 1970’s when he was in his 60’s. He has slowly began to change the national institutions to how they were under Kim Il-sung.
However, in reality, the internal situation is simply following how it was under Kim Jong-il.
2.2. Intensification of fear-first tactics
Under Kim Jong-un’s rule, fear tactics have been replaced by ‘fear-first tactics.’
At the Ministry of Unification’s Press Conference I spoke about how the examination of North Koreans’ ID cards and regulations of entering top events have changed. Government offices such as the one belonging to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have moved next to squares to prevent riots. Executions are also no longer carried out by Russian assault rifles but newer models. The biggest issue is the reason that executions are carried out. In March 2016, 8 people including Ri Yong-gil the director of the General Operations Bureau of the Korean People’s Army, were arrested at the Central Military Commission and Central Committee of the Party Assembly and Ri Yong-gil made it out alive. A truly ridiculous incident in my eyes.
The executions of the Unhasu orchestra is another case showing Kim Jong-un’s fear tactics.
2.3. Increasing control over state officials
As soon as Kim Jong-un came into power he told the Party that he should be told everything, even in difficult situations. In early 2012, the entire party gathered in order to create a strategy. It was decided that everybody with a rank of director or higher in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was to report all their movements and time the day before.
In the latter of half 2013, there was an incident where the Minister of Fisheries was nominated and then switched within a matter of days. The surveillance surrounding state officials has gotten so extreme that it is suffocating. His wavering loyalty was what him got him nominated but also what got him expelled within a matter of days.
2.4. The advancement of nuclear weapons through the economy-nuclear parallel policy
Many people say that if Kim Jong-un is a normal person, he would try to survive as a great leader by reviving the North Korean economy through coexistence with South Korea and foreign investment instead of choosing the nuclear path which is a suicidal one. However, for Kim Jong-un the possession of nuclear weapons is preventing self-destruction, and making North Korea into a nuclear power is the only way of eternalising the Kim Family name.
In 2012, for his first matter of business as the newly appointed leader, he inspected his troops along the border. The reality of the soldiers that Kim Jong-un was faced with was dismal. The conditions of the troops who were meant to be protecting the motherland and unifying Korea was horrifying. Thus, in the end, Kim Jong-un believes that only nuclear weapons could protect the Kim family. Nuclear weapons are what was developed so steadily by his father and grandfather that it is not something he can just give up.
2.5. An evolution of North Korea’s responses to sanctions
Backed into a corner, Kim Jong-un has created several strategies in order to recover from the effect of sanctions.
2.5.1. Increase in dispatch of workers
The rise of labor costs in China and Russia has led to an increased demand for the organized and efficient North Korean workers.
In order to secure a workforce, Kim Jong-un has lowered the standards allowing even those who only have cousins as state officials to be recruited as labourers.
2.5.2. As a strategy for avoiding the sanctions that are being placed on cash inflow, North Koreans are changing their nationality in order to bring in money into the country.
2.5.3. There has been an expansion in the tourism industry and there has been a development in industries that are not caught under the sanctions such as the export of seafood.
2.5.4. There has and will be an increase in smuggling.
Then what will be South Korea’s response towards the Kim Jong-un regime?
South Korea’s response
If I was to order how South Korea should respond to the Kim Jong-un regime it would be as follows:
The stirring of a civilian uprising through the dissemination of external information
Intensification of sanctions through international cooperation
Advancement of human rights through pressure on human rights issues
Civilian aid that sticks to guidelines in order to alleviate hostility towards South Korea
In the case that the Kaesong Industrial Complex is re-opened then cash, in no instance should cash be given.
In regards to food aid, it should only be given if it can be distributed on-site and is up to international standards.
3.1. Continue with the objective of denuclearization and block the sources that will allow North Korea to become a nuclear power
We should not accept Kim Jong-un’s offer of stopping military training and sanctions for a nuclear freeze. We must keep watch of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and face it head-on. The only way to solve the issue of nuclear weapons in North Korea is to dissolve the Kim Jong-un regime.
The role of South Korean politicians
4.1. South Korea needs to really understand North Korea
North Korea is not a communist state but is a slave society.
If we use the term ‘communism’ then our approach towards North Korea becomes divided by the left and right, conservatives and progressives.
Within the communist ideology, there is the notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat and Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il were able to rationalise this into the North Korean dictatorship system. That is why many North Korean communists have been able to accept the dictatorships of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. Many communist North Koreans in the past have accepted the dictatorship of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il from these ideals. However, hereditary rule is not part of communism. North Korea is not a republic, but it is far from a communist state.
When looking at the problem of nuclear weapons or the issue of unification, first we need to look at who is the master of North Korea’s destiny. The reason that we have not been able to see the expected results from the policy towards North Korea is that we have been approaching the North Korean government as the problem solver.
But as soon as we start to see the North Korean people as being the masters of their own destiny- that’s when we can start to solve the nuclear issue or issue of unification on the Korean peninsula.
4.2. South Korea needs to become a reliable country
Right now, the world does not know how South Korea will respond in the case North Korea attacks or how their North Korean policies will change when the government changes. In fact North Korea thinks that they are able to use the elements of South Korea’s democracy in which policies and leaders change with government to their advantage.