Reformist Flirtations and Successor Politics: KCNA Tropes

While Chinese left-wingers insist upon the courage and worthiness of North Korea’s wealth-equalizing currency reforms, Kim Jong Il is out talking up profitability in the northern frontier province of Jagang.

via Wikimedia

In a visit to a the Kanggye Wine Factory reported on December 10, the Dear Leader spake:

He went round the newly-built beer shop…greatly satisfied to learn that the factory has not only steadily boosted the production by updating the production processes and increasing its capacity but successfully set up new production processes including those for the production of beer and raw rice wine.

The factory has steadily lifted the production and strictly abided by the principle of profitability in its management by waging a widespread mass technical innovation movement and establishing a production system relying on its locally available raw materials, he said, adding that the experience gained by the factory goes to prove that the introduction of science and technology precisely means production and vice versa.

He said it is important for the factory to preserve the taste of its special product wine peculiar to it as it has a long history.

Underlining the need to realize specializing in production in order to improve the quality of the product, he called for independently developing beer, raw rice wine and other production processes as its branches.

Kim Jong Il then turned in a kind of arc to praise Jagang province.  Is this a reward for tamping down rebellion, or some kind of a signal that the successor will be finding some historical roots in the province, as has been reported regarding North Pyong’an?

The people of Jagang Province turned its cities and villages into fairylands by their own efforts in the hard days of “the Arduous March”, the forced march and are now dashing ahead in sky-high spirit as frontrankers in the drive for building a great prosperous and powerful nation, he noted, extending a warm salute to all the officials, party members and other working people of the province. [Whassup!!!!!]

Noting that Jagang Province is witnessing miracles and feats marveling the world people day by day, he said that this stirring reality is a brilliant fruition of the great Kanggye spirit and revelation of the inexhaustible mental power of the Korean people who inherited the spirit of Mt. Paektu.

He expressed expectation and conviction that the working people of the province including those in Kanggye City would continue creditably playing a vanguard role in the gigantic drive for building a thriving nation.

In the same dispatch, discussing Kim’s inspection of the Jangjagang Machine Tool Factory, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on IT development, marking a kind of high-tech theme that would be sure to be picked up upon by a successor.

Ever since Xinhua recommended them (as a kind of slap in the face to North Korea), I have been spending more time with the Open Radio North Korea stories, and found this dispatch of December 7 quite apropos on the high-tech aspects of the successor question:

Kim Jong-Eun’s administration team started its activities in 2007

– Kim Jong-Eun’s team for 7.7 Cyber terrorism was established in September 2007

– Kim Jong-Il favored Kim Jong-Eun and designated him as his successor upon his graduation from college.

Kim Jong-Eun was designated as successor in January 2007.

This means that Kim Jong-Eun has been groomed and trained for three years, and that he must be a mature politician, and not a novice.

Additionally, this means the succession process hasn’t been rushed, but has been systematically prepared. Kim Jong-Il’s stroke only accelerated the process. This means the official transition may come sooner than expected.

Open News for North Korea found four supporting facts- the timing of formation of Kim Jong-Eun’s administration team, establishment of revolutionary history sites, formation of a cyber terrorism team, as well as the timing of the weakening of the Department of Organization and Education.

First, it seems that the administration team for Kim Jong-Eun was formed in 2007. The team is composed of experts in various areas, in their 40s and 50s.

Secondly, in 2007, construction of Kim Jong-Eun’s revolutionary history site started. According to a source in April, the construction started in Changsung, North PyongAn Province. The construction was completed in January 2009, and was not open to public until May. Such site for Kim Il-Sung is in Mankyung Dae, for Kim Jong Il is in Baekdu Mountain, and they are used for public eductaion.

hirdly, the Cyber terrorism team that Kim Jong-Eun is in charge of was established in September 2007. Kim Jong Il has been involved from the inception in 2007, as Kim Jong-Eun’s close personnel recommended that North Korea should start utilizing cyber battles in order to get ahead.

Fourthly, the authority of the Department of Organization and Education weakened in 2007. After designating Kim Jong-Eun as successor, the power of Department of Organization and Education weakened, as the power of the Politburo where Kim Jong-Eun belongs grew.

These circumstances support that Kim Jong-Eun was designated as successor in 2007.

2007 was also when Kim Jong-Eun graduated from college.  This means Kim Jong-Eun was active as a successor upon his graduation despite his young age… Kim Jong-Il chose Kim Jong-Eun as a successor as his favored son. In 2007, he made an announcement to a few personnel.

Perhaps Kim Jong-Eun has some ties, then, with high-tech firms in Jagang province?  There’s always the Huichon University of Telecommunications, or the Simjiyeon Information Technology Center,  and then we have this curiosity:

DPRK propaganda for the "Korea Computer Center" -- note the purposeful multitasking on the left -- click image for link

Perhaps the Kanggye praise and the successor politics of recent days can all be fused together in the light of recent instability.  Recall that the city of Kanggye has always been the last holdout for a Kim regime on the run.  This was true in 1950, as Bruce Cumings instructs us, and, since so many weapons are manufactured there today, probably true again.  In the event of a regime implosion, absent flight of the elites to Switzerland, put your money on Kanggye for a destination to regroup and consolidate control of at least one province.

Of course, maybe Joshua Stanton will already be there with his refugee army and ten thousand Chinese cell phones purchased in Tonghua!

More likely is that Kim Jong Il, having been lurking in Pyongyang to monitor the Bosworth situation and handle communications with the Chinese, needed to make a pit stop in the army heartland province of Jagang to shore up support and make sure the tunnels were clean.


  1. KJI’s eldest son (and father of General-Secretary Kim’s only known grandchildren) Kim Jong-nam was one of the primary founders and movers and shakers of the Korea computer Center. If the reports of a botched/aborted assassination attempt by loyalists of Kim Jong-un are true, it could have been a dispute between software nerds. Another note, Kim Jong-il’s favorite child, daughter Kim Sol-song, has some responsibility for purchasing the computers and software used by KJI and his personal apparatus (and possibly the Guard Command).

    One further note; in the event of the current DPRK regime breaking down (a possibility I consider highly remote under the present circumstances)–current KWP and DPRK State elites would just leave the country, and not even bother fighting for any territory. The “warlord scenario” of a North Korean contingency involves constituencies within the KPA. But still and, many Party-based elites would be contented just to go.

  2. Thanks much! I hadn’t realized that Jong-nam was on the high-tech track also. And I love this sentence:

    “If the reports of a botched/aborted assassination attempt by loyalists of Kim Jong-un are true, it could have been a dispute between software nerds.”


    I would agree with you that regime breakdown isn’t in the cards, since wishing for rollback doesn’t make it so. Things might have moved in a different direction in 2003, lest we forget…

    I suppose my fixation with Kanggye is related to the idea that Kim Il Sung went up there (rather than Sinuiju) as his stronghold not long after the Inchon landing, and also that not-so-distant Tonghua was the destination of choice for Pu Yi after he was ousted from Shenyang (old Mukden) by the Soviet Red Army in 1945. But we are living in a different world, it seems, where Kim can get on his speedboat or Gulfstream jet and show up in Bern or Paris not long after the fact.

    For what it’s worth (probably quite a bit!), Andrei Lankov agrees with you, too.

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