Contemporary politics and the hermit kingdom: A decade of Kim Jong – Un

North Korea is perhaps the most intriguing and capricious nation in the whole world and it has been like this for decades now. Although North Korea is an unwilling nation to adapt to altered circumstances, the world outside is developing and changing at an inconceivable rate. The layman in North Korea is heavily under the influence of the regime’s propaganda, which portrays North Korea to be the greatest and the most progressive country in the whole world.


Kim Jong – Un is the third and the current Supreme Leader of North Korea, he succeeded his father Kim Jong – Il to the top post after the latter’s demise in December,2011.

The answer to why North Korea is such an unprecedented and isolated nation lies in the political history of the nation, which revolves around one family. The Empire of Japan annexed Korea in 1910, following years of war and intimidation. Koreans under the rule of Imperial Japan lived a life of pain, misery and torment. Imperial Japan pushed for rapid ‘Japanization’ of Korea by accelerating industrialisation and waging a full-fledged war on Korean culture. Koreans had to do forced labour for the Empire both in Korea and other colonies of the Empire. The number of deaths due to forced labour is estimated to be between 270,000 – 810,000. Korea gained it’s independence on August 15, 1945 after the Empire of Japan was defeated in WW2 by the Allied forces. However, Korea was split into two by the Allies – the USSR dominated North and the US dominated South. Amid rising tensions between Moscow and Washington, two separate government were formed in Pyongyang and Seoul. Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin instructed his minister Lavrenity Beira to recommend a communist leader for the Soviet occupied territories, Beira met Kim Il – Sung a communist leader and a major in the Red army, Beira met Kim many times before recommending his name to Stalin. Kim Il – Sung originally Kim had added up ‘Il Sung’ to his name in 1935, meaning “Kim become the Sun”. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was proclaimed on 9th of September, 1948 and Kim was designated premier. In 1949, after several mergers the Worker’s Party of Korea was founded with Kim as it’s Chairman. Soon into Kim’s regime, On 25th of June1950 the Korean People’s Army (KPA) crossed the border and drove into South Korea under Kim’s orders, leading to the formation of United Nations Command by the UNSC to repel the KPA’s advance. The war ended on 27th July, 1953 with the signing of Korean Armistice Agreement, the agreement established the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) to separate North and South Korea at the 38th Parallel. Kim Il-Sung went on to rule for another four decades. His demise in 1994, brought an end to his almost five decade long absolute reign, he was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il. The second Kim was active in public life for the last two decades of his father’s reign and served as the Supreme Commander of the KPA under him. The Second Kim was much more authoritative than his father, absolute obedience and compliance with his will is what pleased him. According to North Korean defectors under Kim Jong-il, North Korean government became increasingly centralised and autocratic. North Korea’s economy exacerbated under Kim Jong-il, the already suffering economy due to his father’s policy of self-reliance or ‘Juche’ had severely impacted trade and further isolated the country economically. The second Kim was disastrous at economical understandings and management, throughout the 90s the economy remained stagnated and even caused a deadly famine from 1994 lasting till 1998, resulting in about 3,50,000 North Korean’s losing their lives. The regime reached it’s lowest point during the same time and seemed to fall apart, when nuclear weapons came to the regime’s rescue. Under the second Kim the North Korean nuclear program saw an exponential boost and turned out to be a game changer in concerns related to external affairs. In 1994, the North struck agreements with the US to freeze and eventually dismantle its nuclear program and with South Korea on some economic issues. However, North Korea did not keep with the terms of the 1994 agreement and agreed on the same in 2000. In 2006, North Korean media announced the success of an underground nuclear test. From 2008 onwards there were heavy speculations about Kim Jong il’s worsening health and even death. Kim reappeared in 2009 and 10 – accompanying him most of the time was his youngest son, Kim Jong-un. In 2009, Kim Jong-un was declared to be the successor of Kim. Almost 2 years later, Kim died of a sudden cardiac arrest on 17th of December, 2011 aged 70. North Korea declared him the ‘eternal leader’ and decided to preserve his body, Kim Jong-un succeeded the second Kim. Following Kim Jong – il’s demise – his successor’s ability and capacity to remain in power came under scrutiny all over the world. The third Kim was considered to be a young inexperienced man, who simply could not mange the herculean task of leading a nation as complex as North Korea. A decade later we are certain, that is not the case, but under Kim Jong-un the world has witnessed a different North Korea and the impact of it has been unprecedented. Today, North Korea and Kim Jong-un are influencing global politics more than ever and the happenings of the past decade completely explain the reasoning for it. Kim has tried and made his appearance and conduct to resemble to that of his late grandfather Kim Il – Sung. The ambition of North Korea being turned into a nuclear powerhouse has passed down three generation and is unquestionably the strongest under Kim Jong-un, nukes have been used by the DPRK to bring countries like the US on the negotiation table. In the past decade Kim has cemented his power through oppression and fear, after assuming office Kim ordered the execution of various high profile military and political personalities – these include that of his uncle Jang Song- Thaek in 2013 and his half brother Kim Jong-Nam in 2017. He has brought the power of military and other high ranking official under check as everyone came under increased scrutiny under him. Kim Jong-un is also considered to be more authoritarian and aggressive than his late father and grandfather. Over the years Kim has desperately tried and has been successful to come out of the shadows of his father and grandfather in order to build his own public image and persona. Under Kim the North has once agin adapted to the policy of ‘byonjin’ or the simultaneous development in the fields of nuclear weapons and economy. In the past decade Kim Jong Un’s North Korea has faced all sorts of crisis – economic, strategic, political etc. and while it would be wrong to say that Kim has managed all of them successfully, however it is true that he has been successful to suppress them and endure his rule. On the diplomatic front under Kim DPRK’s relations with China and Russia have bolstered and he has even tried to redefine his image internationally. He met South Korean President Moon Jane-in, with what began ‘a new era of peace’ Chairman Kim and President Moon signed a declaration declaring that there won’t be any fighting in the Korean Peninsula, Kim became the first North Korean leader since 1953 to enter South Korea crossing the demarcation line. But it was the summit with Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018 that made history, as Kim Jong-un became the first North Korean leader to meet a sitting U.S. president – a feat neither his father nor his grandfather achieved. Kim wasn’t conceding anything by sitting down with Trump – just the opposite – he was proving that his strategy had worked, that by developing nuclear weapons he had forced the hostile imperialist enemy (as the United States is depicted in North Korea) to take him seriously and to treat the country with the dignity and respect it deserved. The photographs of Trump listening attentively to Kim, the cheering crowds, and the North Korean flag flying alongside the Stars and Stripes only underlined his point. Although, Kim has successfully remained in power for a decade and it appears that there is no serious threat to his regime, this doesn’t mean that the regime is not facing challenges. In the past year, there have been instances where Kim’s health has come under increased scrutiny as he disappeared out of public eye for months – Kim is heavily obese, a chain smoker and also has unhealthy eating habits, not to forget the hereditary heart issues that resulted in the demise of both his grandfather and father. However, it is also true that the North Korean leader has lost considerable weight and that is a positive signal towards his health. Challenges for Kim haven’t been easy in the past decade and as the world progresses so does the weightage of severe mess of these challenges. Recently it has been found out that North Korea is on the brink of a devastating famine that might last upto 2025 and the regime has come out with a horrific and brutal solution – advising starving North Koreans to eat less! Covid – 19 along with some natural calamities have already resulted into the deterioration of the North Korean economy at the same time North Korea has continued to aggressively pursue it’s nuclear ambitions. So at a time when people are likely to die of food shortages over a long period of time, would the North continue to pursue it’s nuclear ambitions and over the longer term how would it impact the geo-political status of the Korean Peninsula and the world in general? These are some questions that would be answered only by time and Kim, as of now the Kim regime is safe and going brutally smooth.

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