Ironically, given the publicity we’ve been getting over here about it, North Korea’s pronouncement that a state of war exists between it and the South didn’t make the news in Pyongyang to anything like the same extent. Additionally, various experts canvassed by NK news org note the large element of bluster in the declaration. Some think it was a rhetorical response to the US flypast of B2 bombers earlier this week. But at the same time, a state of war has technically existed between North and South since the North renounced the 1953 armistice earlier this month. Another thing worth noting is that so far it’s all bluster, without a demonstration atrocity to drive the point home.
Perhaps the most interesting rumour to emerge revently is the claim that Jang Song-taek, Kim’s uncle and the regime’s nominal no2, recently tried to stage a coup against his nephew. This is based on his disappearance from all public appearances with Kim since February and it plays in neatly to the article we blogged earlier this week, which claimed that the Korean People’s Army had been mounting a comprehensive pushback against the ‘civilianisation’ of the regime which seemed to be happening in the first six months or so of KJU’s rule. Both the belligerent external posture and the idea of a coup serve as a pretext for military intervention with the aim of restoring the Song’un ‘military first’ policy which initially seemed to be under threat. Perhaps what we should be looking out for here is eventual news, or at least credible reports, of the execution of Jang Song-Taek.
What we can also see here is a wholesale repudiation of Chinese policy towards the North, which mainly seemed to focus on dialing down its militancy and encouraging the kind of authoritarian economic development model used successfully in China. Note that this policy would have enriched the North Korean overclass immensely, as well as adding to their numbers many people whose interest would be in the maintenance of the system. Yet clearly this was incompatible with both the Song’un policy and the personal tyranny of the Kims.
Obviously, most claims with regard to internal NK politics are guesswork, but it’s always useful to try and assess the internal dynamics behind a particular course of action, especially one which evolves the regular emission of blood curdling threats. Where this leaves external interested parties is with the knowledge that if the regime is going to turn down a Chinese offer that would have enriched it and consolidated its wider political power, then there is actually nothing you can do about it short of bringing the regime to an end. Moreover, this point has now been made abundantly clear to Beijing. I don’t think China’s going to do anything about this situation over the short term, especially since various of its regional relationships are so fraught, but maybe it’s time to stop thinking of China and North Korea as allied in the sense they traditionally were. The North Korean problem is now pretty much the same for everyone.