You know what a good funeral needs? Fireworks:
North Korea test fired a short-range missile off the country’s eastern coast Monday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, the same day leader Kim Jong Il’s death was announced.
The missile launch was not believed to be linked to the North Korean dictator’s death, Yonhap said, citing an unnamed South Korean official.
“This is something that the military has continued to follow … we believe it is not related to the death of Chairman Kim Jong Il,” the official was quoted as saying.
Kim, thought to be 69, died of a heart attack at 8:30 a.m. local time Saturday, a weeping TV announcer dressed all in black told the nation earlier.
In the headline, I wrote, “Surprise!”, but this might be right on time. Time’s Bill Powell noted earlier this morning the need for new DPRK leader Kim Jong-un to consolidate power and prevent the military from seeing a power vacuum at the top. What better way to do so than to conduct a little sabre-rattling?
Last year, he was also given general’s stars in the military and named vice chairman of the powerful central military committee. Kim Jong Un’s father had worked steadily to align his own interests with that of the military — one of the reasons, NGO officials have said, that so much food aid over the years intended for the general population has been diverted to the army. The Dear Leader’s steadfast pursuit of a nuclear arsenal — and his unwillingness to trade the North’s nuclear capability for economic favors from the outside world — were also in alignment with the military’s wishes. “One has to presume the son would never have been put in this position [of] heir apparent had the generals not approved,” says one diplomatic source in Seoul. …
Kim Jong Il’s death comes just days after a bilateral meeting in Beijing between U.S. and DPRK officials, at which special envoy for human rights Robert King held talks with a senior DPRK foreign ministry official. Unconfirmed press reports in Seoul say that at the meeting Pyongyang agreed to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency back in to the country, to impose a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests, and to suspend its uranium enrichment program — in return for 240,000 tons of food aid. However, analysts believe that this diplomatic momentum may be slowed by Kim’s death. As Kim Jong Un consolidates his political power, “North Korea will become even more inward looking, at least for a while,” says Bruce Klingner, senior fellow at the Heritage Institute and a former North Korea watcher at the CIA.
The good news, for an outside world that lives in fear of erratic behavior from the North, is that the younger Kim has had three years to prepare for the assumption of dictatorial power. “There s less of a concern about instability now than had Kim Jong Il died three years ago,” Klingner says. At the same time, the DPRK has only gone through a transition like this once before, and that was when Kim Jong Il was 52-years-old. The country is now once again having problems feeding itself, its economy is moribund, and problems are falling to a 29-year-old to fix. It’s a safe bet that if North Korea’s propaganda artists haven’t already prepared new iconography depicting the youngest Kim alongside his father and grandfather at Baekdu-san, they’re certainly busy at it now.
The missile test is more or less an announcement that the envoys to the Pyongyang talks should find themselves something else to do for a few weeks. In terms of the transition, though, perhaps this CNN segment I found this morning will show just how seriously Jong-un’s dad took the issue … and how unseriously some of the media take North Korea’s famine and tyranny. This report is embarrassing for its breathless coverage of the “pageantry” of Kim’s showcraft for the national media, but at least Alina Cho mentions the chronic famine that exists outside of these stage shows. The Danish actor featured near the end is apparently auditioning for the role of Walter Duranty, either in a play or in real life, as he grabs young Korean girls and pronounces how wonderful he finds the DPRK to be:
“I can’t see it!” he declares. “Maybe it is there, but all I can see is … lucky people.” Dear Lord.