North Korea is a mystery. Hell, even its people don’t seem to know what’s going on there. Downtown Pyongyang looks like a modern city…well, if you just look in the several block Center; but, you won’t be able to walk beyond that anyway. And, don’t pay any attention to the German lettering on the mostly 25 year-old buses. They were purchased from East Germany, which was the country that went kaput in November of 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, took over following the death of his Father, Kim Jong-il, in December of 2012. Normally, Kim is seen often, and appears to be involved in anything positive that happens in North Korea. But lately, Kim Jong-un has not been seen in public for more than a month. So, in view of the lack of any reliable information out of North Korea–or its Supreme Leader–people are having to read the tea leaves for any clues. But, what is happening?
Little is known of Kim’s early life. He is thought to be 31 years old, and believed to have attended boarding school in Switzerland. Recently however, both North Koreans and Korea-watchers are having to connect-the-dots. During his last appearance, he walked with a limp, leading some to believe that he has gout. Since Kim has often been in the public eye since his rise to power, some are wondering if there is something more serious going on–health-wise or political–in the North.
This past Saturday, Hwang Pyong-so, purported to be the Number Two man in Pyongyang led a delegation to attend the closing ceremonies of the Asian Games in Inchon, South Korea. This was an unannounced visit and it surprised many, both in South Korea and the West, since usually only the Supreme Leader has any visibility.
So, the thinking is that one of three things have happened to Kim: he is seriously ill; he is dead; or he has been toppled from power due to his having purged many of the military and political leadership. There has also been one more interesting clue.
During the surprise visit to the South this past Saturday, Mr. Hwang appeared to have a contingent of bodyguards, something which only the North Korean Supreme Leader is entitled to. When Kim took over from his Father, there was considerable hope that a younger Leader would encourage a more open and democratic society. But, that hasn’t happened. Now once again, for those who have extrapolated that Kim is no longer the Leader–one way or another–there might be hope for a true and honest dialogue between the two Koreas.
For the past 65 years, the South has transformed into a dynamic industrial nation, and it has a strong GDP and a healthy standard-of-living. North Korea, on-the-other-hand, has kept its people living in some of the most destitute, famine-riddled conditions on Earth. The next few months should be interesting.