The Despairing Status Quo

ASIAWATCH – Although state television showed footage of hysterical North Koreans pounding the pavement in wretched grief, it is hard to imagine anyone legitimately mourning the loss of Kim Jong-Il. Unpredictable, reclusive and bizarre, he was the most grotesque despot of our time.Starving North Koreans were forced to call the evil dictator “Dear Leader”, in what was one of the many cruel ironies of the planet’s most secretive nation.
Kim Jong-Il enforced the most totalitarian system on earth. It is a crypto-religious cult where the legend of the Kim family is portrayed as immortal. North Koreans were told he descended from heaven onto a mountainside. By comparison, his reported death from a heart attack whilst travelling on a train seems almost normal.
His legacy will range in scope from weird personal predilections to the state-induced famine of the 1990s that led to millions of unnecessary deaths.
To be sure, Kim Jong-un will mark his leadership with some military action. This is designed to remind the world that he is now in charge of North Korea’s atomic arms arsenal. Not that it needs reminding.
South Korea and the rest of the world already look to the North with a heightened sense of alert, but in many ways it is utterly fruitless to urge North Korea to begin charting a new path.
As it has for many years, China will continue to support North Korea. Yesterday’s announcement that Beijing had conveyed their sadness at learning of the passing of a “close friend” is another indication that they are satisfied with the status quo. From Beijing’s perspective, North Korea provides a convenient geographical buffer zone. A divided Korean peninsula removes the threat of a prosperous South Korea on its borders.
That’s not to say that Beijing doesn’t find Pyongyang extremely difficult to deal with at times. But North Korea offers China strategic and proven leverage with the United States. A united Korean peninsula would also see greater numbers of Chinese fleeing across the border.
At this point in time, a divided Korean peninsula also suits Washington and Seoul – so long at there is no significant uptick in tensions. The material costs of intervening in a post-dictatorial North Korea in a US presidential year would be disastrous for an already militarily stretched United States, whilst South Korea would be forced to spend billions in developing the North.
That’s not to rule out any possibility; a new leader will likely be keen to prove himself. But the most likely outcome is the status quo.
So North Koreans will continue to legitimately pound the pavement with despair.

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