Dear Leader's Death Recalls Similar Scenes under Communism
There was something distinctly retro in the death of the North Korean tyrant Kim Young Il.
There were elements of Stalin's death in the tearful reaction of the citizenry. People were weeping in Korean restaurants in China; the sound of weeping was heard in call centers in Pyongyang. After Stalin's death the people grieved as well, even though both Stalin and Kim Yong Il carried their personality cults to insane lengths and reduced their people to starvation level to divert funds to a military-industrial base.
Kim Yong Il also had a touch of Mao, as despite his pretensions at communist Puritanism, he lived a life of luxury punctuated by the most debased exploitation of women. Perhaps, as in the case of Stalin, the tears were for a leader who had made their country a feared power.
Nobody is thinking of doing a Libya on North Korea. There are some nuclear weapons as well as myriads of long range artillery pieces aimed at the South Korean capital of Seoul.
Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il get credit for doing what no other communist leader has succeeded in achieving: they created a hereditary communist dynasty and proved that this was no oxymoron.
The Asian stock markets went down, while the alert level in South Korea and Japan went up in response to the news. But while North Korea may prove different, in general a period of communist succession has usually been a period of relative tranquility in terms of international relations. The rulers are simply too busy consolidating their position in the succession.
The Chinese are the major outside players in North Korea. The relationship between the communist regimes goes back to the Chinese Civil War 1946-1949 when North Korea provided a safe haven for the Communist Party.
China reciprocated during the Korean War, saving the communist regime from destruction by its intervention. Now the major Chinese interest is to avoid a situation where the regime implodes, saddling China with millions of North Korean refugees.
China is responsible for 3/5 of the food supply and fuels in North Korea. China would like North Korea to be more self-sufficient, but not to the point that China's leading position in the country is undermined. China has been trying to persuade Pyongyang that one can reform economically without ceding power politically.
For Russia, North Korea is useful, like Iran. Russian cooperation is needed to either put pressure on North Korea or in the case of a planned Russian pipeline to South Korea, providing the North with royalties for providing carrots. This can be used to win points and concessions from such countries as the United States, South Korea and Japan.
It is doubtful that policy will change when one Kim replaces the other.