A Nation In Mourning
North Korea displayed the body of ruler Kim Jong Il in a glass coffin surrounded by red flowers Tuesday, and his young heir was one of the first to pay respects — a strong indication that a smooth leadership transition was under way.
As the country mourned for a second day with high-level visits to Kim's body at a memorial palace and public gatherings of weeping citizens, state media fed a budding personality cult around his youngest known son and anointed heir, Kim Jong Un, hailing him as a "lighthouse of hope."
Kim's body was wrapped in red cloth and surrounded by blossoms of his namesake flowers, red "kimjongilia." As solemn music played, Kim Jong Un — believed to be in his late 20s — entered the hall to view his father's bier, surrounded by military honor guards. He observed a moment of solemn silence, then circled the bier, followed by other officials.
Outside one of the capital's main performance centers, mourners carried wreaths and flowers toward a portrait of Kim Jong Il. Groups were allowed to grieve in front of the portrait for a few minutes at a time.
U Son Hui, a Pyongyang resident, told The Associated Press.
"We will change today's sorrow into strength and courage and work harder for a powerful and prosperous nation, as our general wanted, under the leadership of the new General Kim Jong Un."
The announcement Monday of Kim's death over the weekend raised acute concerns in the region over the possibility of a power struggle between the untested son and rivals, in a country pursuing nuclear weapons and known for its unpredictability and secrecy.
But there have been no signs of unrest or discord in Pyongyang's somber streets.
With the country in an 11-day period of official mourning, flags were flown at half-staff at all military units, factories, businesses, farms and public buildings. The streets of Pyongyang were quiet, but throngs of people gathered at landmarks honoring Kim.
Kim's bier was decorated by a wreath from Kim Jong Un along with various medals and orders. The body was laid out in the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, a mausoleum where the embalmed body of Kim's father — national founder Kim Il Sung — has been on display in a glass sarcophagus since his death in 1994.
The Dictator: Kim Jong-il
Kim Jong Il, the dictator who used fear and isolation to maintain power in North Korea and his nuclear weapons to menace his neighbors and threaten the U.S., has died, North Korean state television reported early Monday.
His death opens a new and potentially dangerous period of transition and instability for North Korea and northeast Asia. Mr. Kim in September 2010 tapped the youngest of his three sons, Kim Jong Eun, to succeed him, and North Korean state television on Monday said the younger Mr. Kim will lead the country.
North Korea's transition of power will be closely watched by the world as the country prepares for leadership under Kim Jong Eun. The WSJ's Deborah Kan and Seoul reporter Evan Ramstad discuss what this could mean for stability in the secretive nation.
Mr. Kim, who was 69 or 70 years old, according to varying accounts, died during a train ride on Saturday, a weeping television announcer said. He was believed to have been in ill health since suffering a stroke in 2008, and North Korean media said he experienced an "advanced acute myorcardial infarction," or heart attack.
South Korean shares tumbled along with other Asian markets in early trading Monday on concerns about potential instability in the region. South Korea's Kospi Composite down 3.1% in late-morning trading after initially dropping 4.4%. South Korea's currency, the won, fell sharply against the dollar.
Asia Today: North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong Il has died according to North Korean TV reports. The WSJ's Deborah Kan and reporter Alex Frangos talk about what this means for the secretive nation.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said late Sunday that the administration is "closely monitoring" reports of Mr. Kim's death, that President Barack Obama had been notified and that U.S. officials are in close touch with South Korea and Japan.
"We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies," Mr. Carney said.
South Korea put its military on "high alert" and President Lee Myung-bak convened a meeting of the national security council after the news of Mr. Kim's death, the Associated Press reported.
The son of North Korea's founder, Kim Jong Il ruled the reclusive country for nearly two decades. See highlights from his life and career in this timeline. (Click Image To View Interactive Chart)
In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda called an emergency meeting of his National Security group to assess the situation. Japan has been among the countries most worried about North Korea's military ambitions and nuclear tests.
Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa said on the way into the session on Monday.
"I've issued instructions (to the defense ministry) to do everything to establish an alert, monitoring stance."
Meanwhile, roughly 20 minutes before its daily noon newscast, state broadcaster China Central Television broke in with a special report on Mr. Kim's death. It was a three-minute bare-bones account that echoed the facts from North Korea's official media, plus a chronology of the major events of his life, intercut with stock footage. Several minutes later, it aired the program again.
The state-run Xinhua news agency offered a similar just-the-facts report.
Kim Jong-il Rises To Power
Mr. Kim took power after the death in July 1994 of his father, Kim Il Sung, who founded North Korea in 1948. The country, a declining communist industrial power when he took control, fell into abject poverty under his rule. However, Mr. Kim continued to command attention and relevance in the world by building nuclear weapons and selling other arms.
He staked his legitimacy on his father's 46-year rule. Kim Jong Il never called himself president of North Korea. Instead, he bestowed on his father after death the title of "eternal president," while he took lesser titles such as chairman of national defense and general secretary of the main political party.
Mr. Kim suffered a stroke-like illness in August 2008 and was incapacitated for two months, forcing him to begin to groom a successor.
The Successor: Kim Jong Eun
In 2009, reports surfaced that Mr. Kim had chosen Kim Jong Eun to carry on the family's regime. Those reports were confirmed in September 2010, when Mr. Kim appointed his son, who is believed to be 27 or 28 years old, a four-star general in the North Korean military and to high-level posts in the ruling political party.
In October 2010, his first public image was released by North Korean state media, showing a striking resemblance to his father and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the North Korean founder.
Since the public appointment, Kim Jong Eun has frequently been seen following his ailing father on "on-spot" inspections.
"We must fight with greater resolve to overcome today's crisis, behind comrade Kim Jung Eun's leadership, for another great victory for the Juche revolution," an announcer on North Korean state television said in announcing the elder Mr. Kim's death. Juche is North Korea's state ideology, which emphasizes independence and self-determination.
Although a succession plan has been laid out, conditions aren't as favorable as they were in 1994 for continuing the family's control. North Korea is much poorer and less stable now. A famine from 1995 to 1997 killed two million to three million North Koreans, aid agencies estimate, and sowed distrust in the government. North Koreans have learned more about the outside world in recent years, thanks to increasing use of cellphones and availability of DVDs.
What Kim Jong-il's Death Means To Rest of World
The potential for instability in North Korea poses difficulties for the rest of the world because the country in recent years made significant progress in the development of nuclear weapons. It conducted tests of nuclear explosives in 2006 and 2009 and is believed to possess a small number of nuclear bombs, though none that can be transported by missiles.
For its neighbors South Korea and China, Mr. Kim's death brings an additional risk: the prospect for a greater outflow of North Koreans into their countries if instability occurs.
When Mr. Kim came to power in 1994, North Korea was still trying to recover from the collapse of its economic sponsor, the Soviet Union. Famine overtook the country, but Mr. Kim relied on his father's formula for controlling North Korea's roughly 24 million people.
He limited their access to information, ability to travel and earn wealth. And he maintained a system of gulag-like prison camps, massive in scale and horrific in condition, to instill fear.
China eventually took over as North Korea's main benefactor. Prodded by Beijing, Mr. Kim experimented with economic liberalization in 2002 by allowing some markets to form. But by 2008, Mr. Kim grew fearful that economic freedoms were eroding the power of his regime. He ordered crackdowns that included a confiscation of private savings in late 2009.
Mr. Kim also resisted efforts by China, the U.S. and other countries to persuade him to give up the nuclear-weapons research that his father started in the 1970s. The research climaxed in October 2006 when North Korea first tested a half-megaton nuclear device. It tested a more powerful nuclear explosive in May 2009, leading to stiff sanctions by the United Nations Security Council that further damaged the economy.
In 2010, North Korea revealed progress in turning enriched uranium into a source of fuel for nuclear weapons, further aggravating other countries.
Over the past year, Mr. Kim repeatedly reached out to China for more economic and security assistance and lashed out at the three countries long considered to be North Korea's main enemies: South Korea, Japan and the U.S.
COMMENTARY: Yesterday, when I heard the news that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il had died from a heart attack I knew I had to pay my respects with a stupendous blog post.
Like most Americans, we knew very little about Kim Jong Il, other than what we read about him in the newspapers or seen on television. So, I view this as a great opportunity to educate myself and you on the little midget dictator.
Official North Korean Announcement of Kim Jong-il's Death
Thanks to Google Translator, here's the original news release that was run by the state run North Korean newspaper @uriminzokkiri via Twitter announcing the death of Kim Jong Il, and translated into English using Google Translator:
"(December 19, Pyongyang KCNA) -
12:00 o'clock today, the great Leader of Korea Kim Jong-il by comrades want casually demise was a great press release was issued doe.
Lt's General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea Democratic People's Republic of KPA lt's Defense Committee, who is the commander in chief, the Great Leader Kim Jong-il was a boy you like the death of his comrades facing the county ten million hyeongeon now is in the grip of grief that can not be.
Perform the transition from a socialist powerful nation-building feats ever open phase, and the revolution of Korea overlapping challenges and triumphantly through the ordeal, and at a time when Kim Jong -minded sport he died of the WPK and the revolution is the maximum loss of 70 million Koreans, liberal world Most of the people is a great sorrow.
Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, including height, enshrined in many places in the great President Kim Il Sung statue of a comment bibun Among the nation's parents have lost a great citizen come to the locked gakgyecheung Kim moknotah comrades are singing ohyeol breaks down.
They wash with tears pouring nyeom also without making the pain of loss and sorrow that is struggling with.
"Even if only some time ago with the development of the country Thriving happy life of the people than the fire in order to be energetic activity Burley pontoon Announcing the Great General, that he believed that lest we are not alone. "
"Our country does not she, sir you, sir, leaving the leadership of the revolution, sir, love leaves us only one who thought that life is nice, do not you."
Chest pain and sorrow slicing the sky just like to sit down this vision, people more firmly in the hearts of every one always trying to get somewhere and rakgwan confidence of victory, is the tragic vow.
KPA Military Jeongilguk (Male, 43 years old):
"We follow the leadership of Comrade eun sad turn today's crisis with strength and courage win the naemyeo subject of the revolution to win even more great new haegal eoksege will struggle."
Who work in Cabinet heoseongcheol (Male, 55 years old), the "eun-minded than his revelation of our revolution today raeil must prevail," he stressed."
NOTE: Neat translation, isn't it. What a crappy translator Google has, but I am sure you can figure it out.
North Korea Mourns Kim's Death
The news of the North Korea's leader death has put the 24-million population on the verge of insanity, hyped up by unceasing TV broadcast of mass mourning throughout the country. North Korea's national flag is flying at half-mast today on every flagpole in the country.
Now that's what I call a whole lot of crying. Kim Jong-il's son Uen has big shoes to fill.
North Korea's New Leader: Kim Jong-un
Kim Jong-Il's successor is his youngest son, Kim Jong-un. It's time to meet the most powerful twenty-something in the world: an enigmatic basketball fanatic and four-star general with a bad case of fat cheeks and an itchy trigger finger.
In some ways, Kim Jong-un is just your normal millenial: After a stint away at school in 1998, he moved back home with his parents. Although in Kim's case the school was a Swiss boarding school, and his time back home was spent studying at North Korea's premier military academy and being groomed to succeed his father. Kim Jong-il apparently chose Kim Jong-un to succeed him over his two older brothers because they're seen as too soft and irresponsible to lead.
Unlike most people his age (including his nephew) Kim Jong-un is definitely not on Facebook. Kim has been kept so tightly under wraps—he was enrolled at his Swiss boarding school under a fake identity—that the world didn't really know what he looked like until he was "unveiled" at a military parade last year, a newly-minted four star general.
Kim Jong-Un likes to pass the time playing basketball and video games, and launching sudden military strikes against South Korea. It's thought that Kim Jong-un coordinated the bombardment of a South Korean island and the sinking of a South Korean warship last year to prove his military prowess and cement his role as the Great Successor. But he's not all business: F ormer classmates told the Washington Post Kim was obsessed with basketball, had a stash of expensive Nikes and "spent hours doing meticulous pencil drawings of Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan." His taste for consumer goods has survived: Last year, a train full of televisions and watches thought to be gifts for Kim was derailed on its way way from China.
According to a former cook of Kim Jong-Il's who goes by the name Kenji Fujimoto:
"Dressed in a military outfit, the young Jong-Un glared at me with a menacing look when we shook hands."
The first time they met, Fujimoto wrote in Kim Jong-Il's Chef:
"I can never forget the look in his eyes which seemed to be saying, 'This one is a despicable Japanese.'"
Kim Jong-un, like his father, is a serious chubster. Maybe he bulked up like Robert De Niro inRaging Bull to look more like his fat grandfather, North Korea's founder Kim Il-Sung, whom he's reportedly purposely styling himself after right down to the flat-top hairstyle. Or maybe it's some unspoken rule among North Korea's regimes that all its leaders have to be exceptionally rotund, to underscore the the millions of its citizens who have starved in famines.
Looks like Jim Jung-un is a real work of art thanks to dad. Any kid that can move from civilian to four-star general, that is just plain impressive.
President Obama better not count on peace talks with this vicious, cold-blooded, and mean-spirited chubby dictator any time soon.
The North Korean Military
North Korea has the fourth largest military in the world with 1.1 million military personnel, behind China (2.25 million), U.S. (1.55 million) and India (1.35 million). South Korea's military ranks #6 with 687,000 personnel in uniform. North Korea i a military state without equal. On a per-capita basis, North Korea has more people in the active military than any other country by a wide margin.
North Korea's annual military budget in 2009 was only $5 billion, compared to $24.5 billion spent by South Korea, and the $800 billion spent by the U.S. Most of North Korea's armaments are supplied by the Russia and People's Republic of China, but are outdated.
North Korea is superior to South Korea in the following aspects of their military:
- No of Active Military Personnel: 1.1 million versus 687,000
- Reserve Military Personnel: 4.7 million versus 4.5 million
- Main Battle Tanks: 3,500+ versus 2,750
- Artillery Pieces: 17,900+ versus 10,774
- Air Force Fighters and Attack Aircraft: 540 versus 467 (But So Korea has the more modern aircraft supplied by the U.S.)
South Korea has a big lead in surface naval warships (47 versus 8), but lags behind North Korea in patrol craft (329 versus 79), submarines (63 versus 13) and small landing craft (224 versus 36).
North Korea's nuclear bomb program is super-secret, but according to the U.S. and IAEA nuclear experts, the country has sufficient weapons grade uranium to producce between 2 to 3 nuclear bombs and is it is developing long-range ballistic missles to deliver nuclear warheads to Alaska and even Hawaii. A rogue nation like North Korea, with a nuclear arsenal, run by a much younger dictator like Kim Jong Uen means a big problem for decades to come.
Communist countries are known for their huge military parades. This video celebrates the 75th anniversary of the ruling North Korean party and shows its military forces on display. North Korean forces have a very odd way of marching, which has got to hurt after a while.
North Korea Is A Tourist Paradise
North Korea is apparently a very popular tourist destination, if you are not from the West. If you are from China or Russia, no problem. North Korea is a great place to visit, but get used to frequent blackouts in your hotel.
But, North Korea is a crazy fucking country.