Friday, October 8, 2010

Dr. Evil Goes To Korea

I think it's safe to say that the Kims – the ruling family of North Korea – have officially become the real-life versions of Mike Myers' uber-villian Dr. Evil. Current President-for-Life Kim Jong-Il has been heading this way for some time; from the TV screens in every hotel room that broadcast a 24/7 propaganda feed about the “Dear Leader” a la Big Brother (not to mention the very “Dear Leader” tag itself), to his one-time kidnapping of a South Korean movie star in an effort to kick-start his own country's film industry, to the mythic descriptions of his powers that include the ability to manipulate time (though coaching soccer apparently isn’t on the list). But the final straw came with this story about the elevation of his youngest son Kim Jong-un to the role of his chosen successor.

At least we think the man is Kim Jong-un, ABC News, along with Germany's Der Spiegel, is reporting that some “experts” say that the man elevated to power at last week's Worker's Party convention isn't the same person as pictured in the only known photograph of Kim Jong-un from his schoolboy days in Switzerland. His father, Kim Jong-Il has long been reputed to use doubles in his running of North Korea, in fact there are allegations that the now ailing Kim Jong-Il actually died in 2008 and since then the country has been run with a faux Kim Jong-Il as figurehead. Now, some North Korea watchers are alleging that the man put forward as Kim Jong-un is himself a double, which raises the question as to who's actually running the country, and also slips North Korea into that special realm of Dr. Evil style cartoonish super-villany.

It's important to note, as does South Korea's JoongAng Daily, that the people who engage in Kim-ology often have their own agendas and are often wrong in their assessments, so their proclaimations need to be taken with a grain of salt. But the Kim Jong-un succession does point to some serious issues within North Korea – the 27 (or 28) year old Kim Jong-un has no known military experience, yet was just given the rank of four-star general and the modest propaganda title of “Great General”, moves designed to groom him to take over for his dad as leader of North Korea (or possibly for his double to take over for his dad's double). China, North Korea's biggest patron, is trying to put a positive spin on the Kim Jong-un succession, saying it points to stability within North Korea; some analysts are also suggesting that Kim Jong-un, who has actually lived abroad, is likely to be more open to engaging with the wider world than his father ever was. Officials in the United States and South Korea are more pessimistic, saying that the dynastic rule emerging in North Korea is actually a step back from the pro-reform efforts that were underway in the early 2000s and that since the succession discussions began in 2008, the propaganda coming out of North Korea has gotten decidedly more hardline, likely in an effort to build an image of the Kim family as the strong and rightful leaders of North Korea.
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