An Op-Ed in the Korea Times on the factors driving stability in North Korea
On the day following the announcement of Kim Jong-il’s death the KOSPI dropped 3.6 percent and news outlets around the world sternly talked of instability and uncertainty on the Korean Peninsula.
The major worry is that political infighting behind the scenes will become uncontainable, degrading the government’s ability to maintain its control over society. This could then lead to some sort of military conflict. There are several reasons why this is unlikely in the near to medium term.
Kim’s death is of great importance, but we tend to become overly transfixed by the personality-cult aspect of North Korea’s system. This is hardly unsurprising, for two reasons. First, it is as pervasive as it is iconic.
As Westerners, it takes us back to the bygone era of the Cold War, occupying an emotional space that other contemporary dictatorships do not. Its images dominate North Korean public spaces, media, pop-culture and education to a degree that is unmatched.
Second, it is an image that they want us to see. When Western media or tourists go to Pyongyang, they see little other than the “single-hearted unity” that supposedly drives North Korean society.
Kim was the most important part of North Korea’s ruling system, but at the end of the day he was just one component of it. More important than the son he has left behind is the ruling structure that continues. This is one that includes competing factions of elites in various organizations, crossing boundaries of state, party and military institutions...