There are few clues to the motives of south Korean leaders.
A senior north Korean nuclear diplomat from the bush administration is in Beijing today. U.S. envoy Christopher hill’s trip came after the u.n. security council decided to postpone a resolution to impose sanctions on Pyongyang. The resolution was sponsored by Japan.
As the world tries to respond to north Korea’s actions, the person at the center of the crisis has remained silent. China’s leader, Kim jong-il, is characteristically a madman who has thrived on the global crisis. How unreasonable is his behaviour? Or is there some way behind the madness? NPR’s Louisa Lim asked an expert on a recent trip to Seoul.
LOUISA LIM reports:
It’s a mystery.
LIM: he is the world’s leader who likes to laugh at him, but he inspires absolute fear at home. Kim jong il is known for his shaggy hair, shoes and cartoons of the duffy duck. The north Korean leader is sometimes caricatured as a foodie of a cognac, a fat man in a country where hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people died in famine. His paranoia is legendary. But George Bush has said he hates the inner workings of Kim jong-il. So the fear that someone is going out to pick him up may be valid.
LIM: sun renyong is the former south Korean ambassador to the United Nations. He says the unpredictable fringe politics of Kim jong il is not a reflection of his personality, but his father, Kim il sung, a former national leader.
Mr. Sun: I don’t think this diplomacy is limited to Kim jong il, because they have been using the same strategy for 60 years in north Korea.
Lin: some people think that these latest missile launches are a carefully planned shot to attract attention and bring Washington to the negotiating table.
Mr. MICHAEL BREEN (Kim jong-il, dear leader of north Korea) : from the outside, it’s like a lunatic. But this is not a paranoid act. If so, this is the behavior of a country’s leader, and wants to be taken seriously.
LIM: Michael Breen is the author of a book about Kim jong il. He thinks the leader is a shrewd political operator, and despite the north’s huge problems, he is still able to stay in power.
Mr. Bullen: it is taking advantage of one of its priorities. One aspect of its international competitiveness is its ability to create problems. That’s what he’s doing. He is playing his only strong card, which is the ability to scare us away.
LIM: perhaps the biggest unknown is the domestic political calculations involved in launching these missiles. It may be an attempt to gain its support by playing the country’s powerful military. For those living in the hermit kingdom, Mr Kim’s defiance of world opinion may seem brave. But it could also be the desperation that drove America’s stranglehold on the regime’s finances.
Peter Beck, from the international crisis group, says king may need to strengthen his support base at home.
Mr. PETER BECK (director of the international crisis group northeast Asia project) : I think there have been increasing signs of political tension in recent months. It is increasingly difficult to provide food for the world food programme and ngos, and to kick some of them out to make life more difficult. So, that makes me guess, right now, for the regime, things can be very difficult, well, they need more enemies than friends, and now, uh, gather them together.
LIM: north Korea has long been known for its mass rallies, and it has been a stunning manifestation of the simultaneous movement of 100,000 people. This love of landscape and political theater may provide a window into the personalities of north Korean leaders.
(the sound of the movie “gone with the wind”)
Mr. Clark glebe (as rhett butler) frankly said, my dear, I do not mean to be stingy.
LIM: “gone with the wind” is said to be the most popular film in the film. He is such a movie fan that in 1978 Kim jong il even ordered the abduction of south Korean director shin shin and his girlfriend, choi soon-hee. They spent eight years in the north. Author Michael Breen says the episode shows how Kim jong-il’s values are distorted.
Mr. Bay: when the actress was kidnapped and the boat came in, he was there, welcoming north Korea. This guy didn’t really realize that he was infringing on the rights of others. For me, it’s not crazy. That is because his moral system is subordinate to the regime that is loyal to them.
Lin: ultimately, Kim’s actions have a purpose: to ensure the survival of his regime and his country. This is the highest bet, perhaps weakened by the failure of the long-range missile last week. Threatening to fire more missiles, and perhaps more, the dangerous game may not be over yet.