Will North Korea Collapse?

November 16th, 2011

By Dan Miller

Kim Jong-il’s days of living the high life while his people starve are counting down.

Kim Jong-ilSouth Korean newspapers Korea Times, Chosun Ilbo, Dong A-Ilbo and Arirang News reported late last week that the Russian Institute of World Economy and International Relations opined in September that the Kim regime in North Korea will collapse and that “the North will no longer exist in its current form.” The peninsula will then come under the control of the South, a result the Institute considers good for Russia. A different view is presented here.

The Institute appears to include many of the Russian elite and is run by the Russian government. According to a South Korean Foreign Ministry official, the report is “an official declaration by the Russian government of welcoming unification on the Korean Peninsula led by the South.”

The report apparently is not yet available at the Institute’s website, last updated on November 14.  According to the Arirang News article, the report says that

the two Koreas’ reunification will be accelerated by a power vacuum that will be created during the power transfer from current North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to his son Jong-un in the near future.

… the power vacuum, which is expected to happen in [within?] ten years from now, would lead to power struggle between the North’s elite bureaucrats and military personnel. While the two groups battle for the state’s new leadership and identity, the report predicts that an interim North Korean government supported by the international community will be set up in [within?] two decades. (Emphasis added)

As noted below, there are signs that such a power struggle is already starting.

The Arirang News article continues,

The report adds that the reunification of the two Koreas would serve Russia’s national interests, saying that the stabilization of the Korean peninsula would benefit both the Russian economy and Russia’s diplomatic relations.

According to the Dong A-Ilbo article, the Institute

also said in its recent report … “A provisional government capable of disarmament and modernization of the Stalinist country will likely be set up in the North in the 2030s to make full preparation for complete control by South Korea.” The report effectively forecast that the South will achieve reunification by absorbing the North in 10 years. (Emphasis added)

Dong Al-Ilbo comments,

Russia has shunned using the term “collapse” for the North, so it is unusual for the think tank, which helps devise Moscow’s foreign policy, to consider the collapse of the North as a fait accompli. This signals that either the North is showing abnormal signs that cannot be taken lightly or Russia is making a major change in its assessment of the North’s status. Moscow has apparently judged that the North is on a downward path toward collapse and that the path is rapidly narrowing.

China and Russia have different interests.

Relations between Russia and China — apparently amiable now — could come under strain due to the Korean situation. China would not likely view a “positive impact on Russia’s standing in the Asia-Pacific region” as in her best interests. Although China has occasionally seemed frustrated with North Korea, they retain a symbiotic relationship. China’s acceptance of reunification, as summarized by President Hu, envisions neither collapse of the North nor reunification under Seoul.

Chinese President Hu Jintao has said that “independent and peaceful reunification” of the two Koreas is “in the fundamental interest” of both sides.

Asked whether China believes “that reunification of the Korean peninsula will bring more stability than maintaining the status quo?” Hu said, “As a close neighbor and friend of [both Koreas], China hopes that the North and the South will improve relations and achieve reconciliation and cooperation through dialogue and consultation and eventually realize independent and peaceful reunification, and we support their efforts in this regard. This is in the fundamental interests of both the North and the South and conducive to peace and stability on the peninsula.”

The Chinese leadership has expressed support for reunification independent of the military and political influence of the U.S. and led by the two Koreas themselves several times. But it has been widely believed to prefer the status quo for strategic reasons. (Emphasis added)

With unification on the terms desired by China, it could have more influence over the entire peninsula, including the South, than now.

Reunification and the South

Reunification is decreasingly popular with young South Koreans.

The change is clear both from anecdotal evidence and public opinion polls. In a recent survey conducted by the Peace Research Institute, respondents were asked whether they see North Korea as the same state and North Koreans as their ethnic brethren.

In regard to the first question, 44.1% chose the following response: “In the past North Korea was the same state, but now I am beginning to feel it as a different state.” In regard to ethnic solidarity, a majority (52.9%) said that they still perceive North Koreans as their ethnic brethren, but the second most popular (30.2%) response was: “In the past they were our ethnic brethren, but now I am beginning to feel that they are foreigners.” And an additional 9% said: “North Koreans are as foreign as Chinese.”

Just 15 or 20 years ago, such replies would have been virtually unthinkable. Every good, patriotic Korean, regardless of his/her views on other subjects, was supposed to be an ardent believer in the glory of unification.

Absorbing the North could cost about $3 trillion and be far more difficult than was the reunification of Germany.  Meanwhile, North Korean defectors continue to dribble into South Korea, twenty-one on October 30. Although the trip by sea is very dangerous, a total of 21,294 defectors are reported to have arrived by various means as of April of this year. They provide much of the South’s information about the North.

Under the Institute’s thesis, the collapse has begun.

Linking the collapse to the beginnings of the transfer of power from Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong-un, indicates that the collapse has started. A link between the transfer of power and a collapse of the Kim regime has often been suggested. Last August, for example,

The head of a leading news service covering North Korea [predicted] … that the ruling communist regime is headed for the dustbin of history — and soon.

“North Korea will collapse, of course, but the question is how long it might take,” Park In-ho, president of the Seoul-based Daily NK, told the Washington Times. “Within five years, 70 percent chance. But within 10 years? 100 percent.”

His confidence stems from the North Korean regime’s plunging popular support, its lack of funds and its loss of diplomatic support — including from former sponsor China, he said.

The actual power transfer could come soon. There have been signs beyond Kim Jong-il’s ill health that symbols of power are flowing to his son. Some appear to be significant even to westerners. For example, it was noted last September that

Kim Jong-un, thought to be in his late 20s, emerged from obscurity a year ago this past week as a four-star general and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party….

He has also been seen on state-run television with

“octogenarian party secretaries bowing to a man their grandchildren’s age before accepting the smiling man’s handshake or kowtowing to his instructions.”

A year after Kim Jong-un made his public debut as North Korea’s leader-in-waiting, scenes like that — the old party elite groveling — have become a staple of North Korea’s propagandist media, a crucial tool for the country’s leader, Kim Jong-il, to elevate his son as his successor.

Continue reading this article at Pajamas Media »

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