By Andrés Sánchez Braun
Seoul, Dec 16 (EFE).- Friday will mark 10 years since Kim Jong-un inherited power in North Korea, a decade that has been marked by his pursuit of nuclear weapons on the international scene and a tightening of control amid an ever-worsening economic situation at home that has been criticized by human rights groups and the international community.
“North Korea has just started using ‘kimjongunism’,” Lim Jae-cheon, North Korean Studies professor at Korea University, told EFE in an interview, his own version of the state’s ‘Juche’ coined by his grandfather and his father’s “kimjongilism” that underpinned the ideologies of his two predecessors.
“Although it is difficult to know whether his power is as robust as his father’s, his command seems strong enough so as not to have to depend on his father’s shadow,” the expert added.
Rachel Minyoung Lee, a non-resident researcher at the American Stimson Center, recently explained in an online seminar that Kim Jong-un has managed to forge a more candid image compared to his predecessors.
“We no longer see that mystification in North Korean media,” she said of the propaganda disseminated under Kim Il-sung, who boasted of defeating Japanese colonial troops almost single-handedly, or Kim Jong-il, whose birth was said to be ushered in by a double rainbow and a new star appearing in the sky.
Lee recalled how Kim Jong-un shed tears during the Workers’ Party of Korea’s 75th-anniversary celebrations in 2020 and offered a rare apology for failing to lead the nation through tumultuous times.
In 2014 following the catastrophic collapse of an apartment building, officials were forced to issue an apology, a drastic departure from previous regimes.
Both Lim and Lee agree Kim has relied on the Workers’ Party and its institutions more than ever before.
Kim abandoned his father’s “songun” policy, which deposited virtually all powers in the army, and in 2013 deployed a “byungjin” strategy (a term coined in 1960 to describe Kim Il-sung’s policy simultaneously developing the military and the economy) which opted for nuclear and economic development under the Party’s leadership.
A timid agrarian reform ensued which included the promotion of public-private activity and the decentralization of some companies, factories and farms as well as stimulating the growth of internal markets.
But he ran into a dead-end when the state accelerated its development of nuclear weapons and missiles, prompting the UN to slap economic sanctions on the nation in 2017, Yang added.
In addition to a flagging economy, climate change is wreaking havoc on the impoverished country with increasingly frequent typhoons destroying crops and no foreign capital being injected due to pandemic border closures.
Sandra Fahy, a professor at Carleton University, described North Korea’s situation as unsustainable. The nation continues to turn down vaccines despite the new Covid variant, Omicron, driving global infection rates up.
According to Fay, there are many indicators that Kim is taking advantage of the pandemic to quash any dissent.
Stricter border controls, orders to shoot anyone who approaches the buffer zone with South Korea and a law mandated in December 2020 to quell foreign influences or ideology are just some of the policies that point towards a tightening of Kim’s grip on his subjects.
Many had thought that because he was educated abroad, Kim would be more liberal. But the human rights situation has not improved, Fahy added.
This determination has also manifested in Kim’s nuclear agenda.
Lee Do-hoon, a South Korean diplomat who has participated in nuclear negotiations with the North, told the Seoul Correspondents Club this week that, while his father and grandfather had an ambiguous position when it came to North Korea’s nuclear program, Kim has forcefully stood his ground amid a wave of international sanctions.EFE