Ailing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears to be getting neither better nor worse, Unification Minister Hyun In-taek told the chiefs of overseas missions in a closed-door briefing held at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on Monday.
Hyun added Kim appears to be using his left arm a little better than a year ago, according to sources at the meeting.
Recent public remarks by Kim's eldest son on Japan's Asahi TV, Hyun said, "were staged." Kim Jong-nam, who was passed over for the leadership succession and lives in exile in China, "made the remarks for his own protection, sending a message to his half-brother Jong-un that he has no ambition for power and therefore wishes him well," the sources quoted Hyun as saying.
The minister speculated that Kim Jong-nam is in communication with his father through his wife, who lives in North Korea.
Hyun also said the North Korean military seems to be carrying out "high-level diplomatic activities" while transgressing the Foreign Ministry's authority. He claimed it was military, not the ministry, that pulled the strings behind the visit of former U.S. president Bill Clinton to secure the release of two American journalists in August 2009. The military believed that it should come to the fore in diplomatic matters because it could not trust the ministry, he said.
Hyun pointed out that it was North Korea's Minister of the People's Armed Forces Kim Yong-chun who recently proposed high-level military talks to the U.S. in a message to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Turning to the Kaesong Industrial Complex, Hyun said the facility is perhaps the only thing that is doing well economically in the North. "After its attacks on the Navy corvette Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island last year, the regime suddenly began dispatching hundreds of more workers to the industrial park every day. North Korean officials have asked us informally never to shut down factories there," he said.
Some South Korean businesses at the industrial park gave 1 kg of pork to each North Korean employee as gift, but the regime failed to dole out extra meat rations for the Lunar New Year's Day and Kim Jong-il's birthday, he added.
"There's almost no economic infrastructure in the North. Even its light industry isn't performing well. The only thing the regime can do is excavate underground resources," he said.
Hyun also commented on the regime's propaganda computerization, quaintly called "computer numerical control" or CNC for short, a process touted as heir apparent Kim Jong-un's prime achievement. "I hear that the machine tool accuracy the North is trying to achieve is about 10 times less accurate" than South Korea's, he said.