Next of Kim: The Great Leader 3.0
9:45 AM, Dec 28, 2011 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
That is a message from Beijing that has so far fallen on deaf ears in Pyongyang. Attempts to show what could be done with private enterprise and economic reform under the banner of “socialist development and progress” by taking Kim Jong Il on a tour of China’s showcase city of Shanghai when he visited in 2006 did almost nothing to change his harsh rule back home. China has been forced to continue to prop up the DPRK with food and fuel shipments and other handouts to keep the country from collapsing.
I was in Beijing during the 2010 visits of both Kims —when the elder introduced his son to the Chinese ruling order and essentially told them “this is who you are going to be dealing with very soon.” No one knows much of what transpired during those visits, but the conversations seem to have been more about ensuring that the gravy train of generous Chinese economic assistance would continue once the young Kim took over rather than promises that he would make radical changes. (Not surprisingly, it appears that Chinese president Hu Jintao may be the only foreign leader to attend Kim’s funeral today.)
In a North Korean collapse, South Korea is the other nation that could find itself with millions of hungry mouths to feed on its doorstep—and would also inherit a broken-down, underdeveloped and barren land that will cost billions to re-build. But, as diplomats in Beijing told me, “the South Koreans had no clue that Kim Jong Il was even dead. They knew nothing until they heard the announcement on the North’s state radio, which makes you wonder how closely they are watching their northern brethren—or if they just did not want to know.”
“No one wants North Korea to change,” said a Western diplomat in Beijing. “No one wants to accept the responsibility of taking over if the regime falls. This is why everyone allowed the first and second generation of Kims to murder, starve and terrorize their population—and they may well allow the third of the Kims to do the same—as long as the state does not collapse.” But unless Kim Jong Eun is as ruthless and capable as his forebears, the DPRK’s neighbors may soon have to learn to think the unthinkable.