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January 2013

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Kim Jong-un's Anniversary Fireworks
By Dr. Leon V. Sigal, Social Science Research Council
Reviewed by John Sylvester

The succession of Kim Jong-un to the North Korean throne opened speculation as to how much might change in the regime’s former isolation, truculence, and economic underperformance. So far, unfortunately, little but hope lingers on.

This third Kim monarch not only looks like his deified grandfather, but has in part also acted like him with a purge of some of the senior leadership. He has made a few surprising gestures to youth culture, perhaps just reflecting his own age, but basic policies have largely continued as before.

Dr. Sigal’s online article notes that the launch, this time successfully, of a long-range missile is part of a tactic “his late father would have approved [by] keeping everyone off balance.” Many top officials have visited Beijing, while ignoring China’s pleas to stop causing trouble. Kim has resumed talks with Japan, while denouncing Tokyo’s military buildup. He has refrained from nuclear testing while hardening his bargaining stance with the U.S. He has promised his people economic growth while raising the profile of the security services.

The missile may be based on Russian or Iranian designs but the staging of it does indicate progress in North Korea’s capabilities. The U.S. in turn is now helping South Korea with its missile programs.

Dr. Sigal, Director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project, calls attention to an editorial in the Pyongyang party newspaper calling for improved inter-Korean relations. We must wait to learn if new leaders, now in both the south and north of Korea, will actually negotiate closer and friendlier ties. The historical record suggests pessimism.bluestar

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