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Let’s try to understand Kim Jung-un

Nowadays, the move of Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, is worth paying attention to. He is engaging in public actions these days, such as the inter-Korean Summit and US-North Korean Summit. But why? As you know, the relationship between the North and the USA has not been that friendly; so to with South Korea. Also, he had decided to continue the North’s extreme isolation for a long time. Why is Kim Jong-un showing extraordinary moves? The key to understanding him is sustaining regime, the one and only goal of his life.

After Kim Jong-il passed away in 2011, Kim Jong-un (hereafter called Kim) introduced a ‘reign of terror’ to build up his weak support; he was also afraid of the gaining strength of the elite. So, what he showed in the media such as public executions, and the General of the Army kneeling beside him, made the world recognize him as a young tyrant. Also, nuclear experiments and missile provocations have been conducted as a part of the strategy to maximize the external tension to improve internal ties. This method would help quick stabilization of the power, but it may collapse at any moment.

Apart from the public situation, there is another threat to the regime inside North Korea. It is market expansion. The introduction of markets helped people to make a living during the economic crisis of the 1990s. Since then the market has become bigger and bigger, so much so that the government can no longer control it. You should know that growing market has changed public perception among North Korean citizens. Since people started to make a living on their own, traditional values, such as strictly conforming to social norms and allegiance to the Kim family, have been weakened, which affects Kim’s regime. Also, an increasing number of the younger generation barely received socialist benefits­ – food distribution and free education – and some of them chose not to go to school or they dropped out of school. Lack of ideology education – mostly composed of praising the Kim family’s work – is another threat to maintaining the regime. To be honest, would you be thankful to the leader of the country although you have problems living from day to day? Contrary to the older generation who wanted to join the party because of loyalty and awe-inspired reasons for the government, the younger generation wants to join because of individualistic and capitalistic reasons: they want to be financially stable. Kim would also know that this change passing through a generation will influence his regime, so he cannot help but stimulate market growth.

Back to the external issue, President Mun Jae-in was elected in South Korea, and President Donald Trump was elected in America. Right after the election, Trump put economic pressure on North Korea to make it abandon its nuclear weapons. China was also involved, so North Korea was banned from exporting to China. Therefore, Kim decided on reflection to build a friendly relationship with America, suggesting a new condition: denuclearization. Kim asked Trump for security guarantees in exchange for denuclearization.

The reason he wants to end the Korean war is the same. On Kim’s side, the end of the war means an improved relationship between the US and North Korea. It is itself his public diplomatic achievement. Also, after the war ends, there will be no justification for the USA to put military pressure to North Korea, so Kim can insist that is withdraws the USFK (United States Forces Korea). To Kim, ending the war is the key to stabilizing his regime.

Kim’s reputation is divided among North Koreans. Some would think of him positively because Kim leaves people to do whatever they want in the market. However, some think the complete opposite and they say nothing changed after he started to rule. They say Pyeongyang (the capital city of North Korea) in the media seems very developed and wonderful, like everyone lives in peace taking advantage of those facilities or technology, but this is far from reality. The chief executives habitually take bribes and they don’t even try to hide it. The policies are only made for international propaganda and sustaining the regime, so the problems of human rights abuses and the extreme wealth gap still exists.

Kim is not qualified as a leader of the country since he failed to do his duties, so he deserves to be harshly criticized. No matter happens in the future of North Korea – development or unification – the decision should be made for everyone’s sake, not only for Kim himself.

Cho Suyeon  sooyon5o@gmail.com

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