A transfer of power that would be disastrous

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 September, 2010, 12:00am

The secrecy of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il's regime means that we can only speculate as to the real reason for his just having spent five days in China. He met President Hu Jintao and they discussed the six-nation talks to end the North's nuclear intransigence, but that could have been done by phone. He may have been seeking aid and business opportunities for his flood-ravaged and poverty-ridden country. Perhaps he was making a pilgrimage to places his father spent time at or, as Korea-gazers believe, maybe he was lobbying for Beijing's approval for his younger son to be his successor. It is to be hoped that if the latter was raised, the leadership showed disdain.

The family dynasty in Pyongyang has been disastrous for the country's long-suffering people. Globally they rank among the most impoverished and least free. The country has severe food and fuel shortages. If it wasn't for China's economic support, it is highly likely the regime would collapse. Clearly China has a stake in stability in North Korea. The thought of millions of starving refugees flooding across the border is an alarming prospect. So, too, is the possibility of upheaval on the country's doorstep leading to South Korea and its US ally moving in to avert a humanitarian crisis. This explains why Hu wants to stay on friendly terms.

That shouldn't mean backing one of Kim's sons to become the next leader, though. Kim's father, Kim Il-sung, handpicked him to be his successor and built a personality cult around him. He took the reins of power in 1994 when the elder Kim died. Speculation is rife that he is grooming his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, to succeed him. If the talk of a succession is true, it's a most unwelcome development. The national leadership would be wise not to support such a transfer of power. Any dynastic succession like this would be about the survival of Pyongyang's ruling clique. For ordinary North Koreans it's a guarantee of continued hardship and persecution.

What North Korea needs are leaders willing to launch the same economic revolution that lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty.