Seoul Needs to Handle the New N.Korean Regime Delicately

      January 02, 2012 13:05

      North Korea's official papers said in a New Year's editorial that the party, military and people must become a "shield" to protect new leader Kim Jong-un "to the death." It added the party and military must firmly support Kim's "sole" leadership. Kim was appointed as the supreme commander of the military on Saturday. The editorial also warned that the South Korean government faces the "scathing judgment" of North Korea and reiterated Pyongyang’s decision not to deal with the Lee Myung-bak administration.

      Kim Jong-il rose to the rank of General Secretary of the Workers Party in 1997, three years after Kim Il-sung's death. But Kim Jong-un began succeeding his father immediately after his funeral. That shows just how unstable his leadership is as he is propped up by a gang of old men without forming a solid support base through his own efforts. This weakness will not be overcome simply by giving him any additional titles.

      Kim Jong-un has to consolidate his support base within North Korea before he can afford to turn his eyes on issues outside of the borders. The South Korean government sent a message of condolence to the North Korean people and allowed a few people with historic ties to the North to attend Kim Jong-il's funeral as a gesture of its intent to resume dialogue with the North, although it did nothing of the kind when Kim Il-sung died in 1994. North Korea's hostile response to the gesture points to the weakness of Kim Jong-un's grip on power.

      Seoul's primary focus should be on finding a way to deal with the shaky North Korean regime. If he has to focus on internal matters first, the South will have no choice to watch silently and wait. In the meantime Seoul should fix problems in intelligence operations that became obvious when Kim Jong-il died and deepen communication channels with regional neighbors so that it does not miss any more significant changes in the North.

      There are several signs that North Korea views this year's general and presidential elections in South Korea as major opportunities to advance its interests. Seoul needs to make Pyongyang realize that it is mistaken. It must also help North Korea understand that its brethren in the South are the only people with the will and capacity to help it emerge from poverty and isolation. If opportunities for dialogue emerge in that process, it could significantly ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

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