Why Kim Jong-un's Birthday Passed Without Fanfare

      January 11, 2011 13:10

      Ha Tae-kyoung

      North Korea passed by heir apparent Kim Jong-un's birthday on Saturday apparently without any fanfare. There was no mention of it in the state media, and no congratulatory ceremonies. It is extremely unusual for North Korea to bypass such events in the life of a highly-publicized heir apparent. Some North Koreans are saying he needs to accomplish something before his birthday can be celebrated, as he was only established as the heir in 2009 and publicly confirmed last year.

      North Korea has pursued three major domestic projects: the 150-day struggle, construction of 100,000 new homes in Pyongyang and the currency reform. The 150-day struggle, which began in the spring of 2009, was aimed at boosting agricultural output by pressing large numbers of people to work on the collective farms, but rice output alone barely met 50 percent of the target. To achieve the plan to build 100,000 new homes in Pyongyang by 2012, the regime would have had to build 35,000 homes last year, but a lack of cement thwarted that aim. And about a year after the botched currency revaluation, prices of rice in the North have soared around 75 times. These days, U.S. dollars or Chinese yuan are the preferred currencies in North Korean markets. The North Korean won is worthless.

      The only "achievements" the North Korean regime can therefore boast are its provocations against South Korea. On July 7, 2009, the North succeeded in launching a crippling cyber attack against several South Korean Internet websites. In March 2010, it sank the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan and in November launched an artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island.

      But the regime faces a dilemma, since they cannot publicly boast of these achievements without admitting that it was behind them. The North denies both the cyber attack and the sinking. Touting them as the feats of the heir apparent would reveal the lies.

      The prospect of a war crimes investigation by the International Criminal Court also affected North Korea's reaction. For a brief moment following the attack on Yeonpyeong Island, there were rumors within the North Korean military that Kim Jong-un was behind it, but they vanished after the ICC announced it would investigate the incident. Lauding the artillery attack as Kim Jong-un's accomplishment would only provide evidence for the ICC to indict him.

      This is why North Korea has to wait for some other proof of Kim junior's greatness. According to the propaganda machine, Kim was an expert shot since the age of three, dictated Chinese poems at the same tender age and now speaks seven languages. North Koreans may have been shielded from the outside world, but even they know that all this is pure fiction.

      Last year, Kim spent W6 billion (US$1=W1,124) to put on a spectacular fireworks show a day before his grandfather and former leader Kim Il-sung's birthday along the banks of the Daedong River in Pyongyang. North Korea advertises the fireworks show as one of Kim junior's achievements, but hungry North Koreans wonder how much rice the government could have bought for the money.

      Nowadays, even North Koreans will no longer respect or follow a leader who has achieved nothing. But it is extremely difficult in the present circumstances for Kim junior to achieve anything that could earn him the support of his people. As a result, his birthday passed quietly. It appears that the hereditary succession in North Korea is becoming more and more difficult.

      By Ha Tae-kyoung, the president of Open Radio for North Korea

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