Wednesday, March 10, 2010

North Korea: Is Kim Jong-il losing it?

Recommended reading on North Korea:

Is the Dear Leader losing his grip?
By Andrei Lankov
Asia Times 5 March 2010

As Lankov notes: "Contrary to oft-stated accusations, Pyongyang leaders are neither irrational nor ideology-driven; they are a bunch of brilliant Machiavellians, very apt at exploiting the fears and controversies of their enemies and their partners alike."

North Korea has been playing the game brilliantly for a long time: perfectly timed provocations, perfectly timed negotiations, perfectly in control. However, two recent miscalculations, which amount to real strategic errors by the regime, might indicate that it is not business as usual in Pyongyang. In fact, the serious nature of these strategic errors leads Lankov to question whether Kim Jong-il is losing his grip.

"Over the past year or so," writes Lankov, "something strange has begun to happen in Pyongyang. The North Korean leadership has taken some actions that have clearly damaged the interests of the ruling clique. It seems that the once formidable manipulators have for some reason lost their ability to judge and plan."

The two strategic errors in question are: (1) serious miscalculations in Pyongyang's currency reform, which led to unforseen (by the regime) and undesirable results – in particular, massive inflation; (2) serious miscalculations in the recent round of concession-seeking provocations, whereby unusual haste may have caused the plot to backfired and blown Pyongyang's game out of the water, possibly forever (or at least for a while).

Helpful links:
Daily NK
North Korea Economy Watch


Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 043 | Wed 17 Feb 2010


Tuesday 16 February was North Korean president 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-il's birthday. As very little news makes it out of the 'Hermit Kingdom' to 'trigger' a prayer bulletin, we will take this opportunity to focus on the unsurpassed suffering in North Korea. The isolated state follows an ideology known as 'juche' which is essentially Stalinism mixed with the cultic, idolatrous adulation of the 'Eternal (but dead) Leader' Kim il-Sung and his son, the ruling 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-il.

Like his father before him, Kim Jong-il has perfected the art of maintaining power. According to a recent report in the Guardian (4 February) up to 40 percent of the State's income is derived from illegal activities such as drug-trafficking, sales of weapons and missile technology, and the production of counterfeit US dollar bills. Much of that income is spent buying the loyalty of party officials and the military. Meanwhile the masses are kept isolated, ignorant, brainwashed, impoverished, dependent, starving, weak and terrorised. So any effort to stir up a popular uprising would be doomed, as those with power have too much to lose and those with everything to gain are powerless.

The State runs a gulag of concentration camps / penal labour colonies. Built according to the Stalinist model and housing some 200,000 prisoners, they rival anything the Soviets or the Nazis ever ran. Christianity is a political crime because it recognises an authority greater than Kim and advocates the worship of Someone other than Kim. Merely possessing a Bible risks public execution. Open Doors estimates that as many as 70,000 Christians may be incarcerated. To ensure that the contaminant of a political criminal is totally expunged, their whole family to three generations will also be incarcerated. Many don't survive more than a few years as prisoners are worked, tortured and starved to death. Prisoners, including family units, are even used as guinea pigs in chemical weapons testing. (Click here for the 2004 BBC documentary on North Korea, Access of Evil)

In 2002 famine, the result of regime mismanagement, led to the spontaneous rise of markets. Whilst illegal, the markets flourished because of corruption. By 2004, the regime had given up trying to control the markets and so it announced it would be moving to a market economy. However, it didn't take them long to realise that the openness and independence that came with market activity could undo decades of myth-making and propaganda. By 2006 the regime was clamping down and re-Stalinising the State, closing markets, shutting down communications and forcing people back into totally unprofitable mines and industries solely for the purpose of control and indoctrination. By 2008 North Korea had returned to deep isolation. Starvation loomed in 2009 and markets sprang up again. So this time they changed the currency. North Korea expert Kim Young Hwan told Daily NK (20 January) that he sees the re-denomination as the regime's attempt to 'deal a blow to people's thinking', lest they think they can act spontaneously, solve their own problems, and not be dependent on Kim Jong-il.

Kim Jong-il is presented to the North Koreans as a divine, Messiah-like figure. Whilst he was actually born in the former Soviet Union in 1941 during his father's exile there, the myth is that he was born in 1942 in a log cabin on the top of North Korea's highest mountain, Mt Paektu, under a double rainbow and a bright star. There is (supposedly) nothing this 1.57m (5ft 3in) god-man cannot do. Though Western media frequently portray Kim as a crazy, vain, spoilt playboy (which he is) he is also an exceptionally cruel, master manipulator who knows exactly what he needs to do to stay in power and is prepared to do it.

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 the Soviet regime was spread wafer-thin, while the people had been enlightened, strengthened and emboldened through glastnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). In the end, the Wall fell because, due to prayer -- not just circumstances, the Soviets knew it was over and the guns fell silent (no massacre). Pyongyang 2010 is the opposite: the regime is concentrated, fortified and confident, while the people are physically weak and without options or hope. But despite the apparent hopelessness of the situation, there can be no doubt that divine power is capable of anything the divine imagination determines. 'What is impossible with men is possible with God.' (Jesus in Luke 18:27 ESV.)

  • God's unrestrained mercy will spill over North Korea, frustrating the wicked (Psalm 146:9b) and delivering the oppressed. (Psalm 40:11-13)

  • Jesus Christ will build (Matthew 16:18) sustain (1 Corinthians 1:8) and perfect (Hebrews 12:2) his Church in North Korea.

On behalf of the Church in North Korea we pray: 'So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the LORD.' (Isaiah 37:20) -- the prayer of Hezekiah king of Judah, right before the Lord, in answer to his prayer, defended and saved Jerusalem (v33-37).


This RLPB was written for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (AEA RLC) by Elizabeth Kendal, an international religious liberty analyst and advocate, and a member of the AEA RLC team.

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