Archive for Kim Jong Il

Grafs from the new Kim Jong Nam book

Rather than spoon-feed you the parts that interest me, I’ll just link to this, this, and this and let you read and judge for yourself. You may also find this related article by Scott Snyder interesting.

kjn.jpgMy reaction on reading these excerpts? Disappointment, mostly. Few of Jong Nam’s broader conclusions about North Korea are surprising or even divergent from the consensus of outside speculators. Most are either obvious, unsupported by any credible new revelations of fact, or both. An exception is his intriguing assertion that North Korea is “extremely unstable internally,” but the grafs offer no details to support this, and Jong Nam doesn’t seem to have spent much time in the more fly-blown parts of North Korea where that instability might be (barely) visible. The personal details were interesting — he never met Kim Jong Eun, had a close emotional relationship with his father, and has a Chinese “protection” detail. Like Jong Nam himself, Jong Eun has traveled to Japan under a fake passport. Oh, and Jong Nam says never really wanted to succeed his father, before or after that whole Disney thing, which might just be true. Jong Nam gives the impression of astounding naivete given his background, in both his personal habits and in some of his political thinking.

Even chewing on these small slices, I found myself struggling to separate truth from self-serving pap (Was Jong-Nam really not involved in North Korea’s business activities in Macau, previously the center of its money laundering activities? What an interesting extradition request that would be!). My guess is that like me, you’ll fail at this task because of the short supply of known facts to compare to Jong Nam’s account. I still want to read the book. I even find myself feeling disturbingly sympathetic to someone who grew so fat on the misfortune of others. This account does conform to what I’ve heard third- and fourth-hand about Jong Nam, which is that he just never had the mean streak he needed to fit in in Pyongyang. He probably never had the gravitas to make much of a positive impact there. I’m afraid he’ll soon find himself the target of withering pressure from his homeland. I wouldn’t even rule out a brush with a stranger with a poisoned needle, although the more likely outcome for Jong Nam is that his Chinese minders will soon whisk him away from the bacchanalian fleshpot where he lives now for a more austere, less accessible part of China.

KIm Jong Il’s Funeral Ride Was in an American Made Car

//nkleadershipwatch.wordpress.comSource: KCNA via NK Leadership Watch

Well if this doesn’t take the cake!   I suspected it, but then thought twice about it — surely even the North Korean higher-ups wouldn’t go against their own propaganda for an event to be watched into perpetuity by every one of their subjects.  Yet commenter Thomas was the first here to come out and say it, and now ABC News Radio says it’s true:

…But a curious detail was that the boxy black hearse that crept through the light snow was a vintage Lincoln Continental.

The choice of a U.S.-made luxury car seems odd for a country that preached a belligerent self reliance, reviled America and was put on President George W. Bush’s Axis of Evil list.

Experts at put the year of the Lincoln at 1976, making the 35-year-old vehicle older than North Korea’s 28-year-old new leader Kim Jong-Un.

Ford, the parent company of Lincoln, did not respond to telephone and email requests for comment.

The choice of an American luxury car for his final ride is consistent with Kim’s tastes, despite his regime’s propaganda depicting the U.S. as evil, dangerous and violent, and his history of antagonizing numerous American administrations with threats of war and nuclear weapons.  [Joshua Cohan, ABC News Radio]

I don’t know about you, but this fact would seem to be ripe to float into North Korea by balloon — say, for the new dictator’s birthday on January 8th.


Car Buzz also says it was a 1976 Lincoln Continental and has some nice photos and says something that would make Korean car makers smile.

I wonder what cars were used for Kim Il Sung’s funeral?

Update 2:

For the answer to that and more, see this NY Times article.

“The Lincoln Continental in the old Asia was considered to be a solid, robust, powerful car,” said Kongdan Oh, a senior researcher at the Institute for Defense Analyses who has written on daily life in North Korea, where her parents were born. “They are a time capsule. North Koreans are living still the 1970s life.

She said the cars were probably chosen because they were previously used in the funeral of Kim Il-sung, who was Kim Jong-il’s father and the founding president of North Korea and who died in 1994. “Whatever they did in the past, they are very comfortable repeating that, especially this Kim family dynasty,” she said of the North Korean leadership. “They probably didn’t even think twice about using this car. For them, it’s a very natural choice.

Very interesting.  I wonder if the average North Korean would know about this old belief in this American car, and what they think about it being used in the state funeral.

On Kim Jong Il’s legacy and North Korea’s future

You can listen to me holding forth on those topics in this podcast. For extra fun, you can also hear me flub the casualty count for the ROKS Cheonan and the name of a mostly forgotten document called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is why I hate podcasting — you can’t research in real time.

Kim Jong Il Dead

Good riddance to him. Any bets on who will actually run the place now?

It’s hard to imagine that anyone can fill the psychological void he leaves. It doesn’t matter that most North Koreans undoubtedly despised him. He was still a tremendous, terrible presence that no one else can be.


[KCNA, Reuters]


[Reuters, Kim Kyung-Hoon]

Update: Here are some posts that seem freshly relevant:

- Boldly, I had predicted that Kim Jong Il would die. But we could see this coming two years ago, and here, I prognosticated at greater length about the post-Kim Jong Il era.

- As if preparing for his own death, Kim Jong Il spent his last years purging old comrades. See also.

- A reminder of how little we really know about Kim Jong Eun, who would be a figurehead at most, and who is probably even more despised than his father.

- South Korea’s military is on high alert.

- As of 11:36 p.m. Washington time, KCNA has nothing on this. [Update: But just look at it now.]

Some other quick thoughts:

Who will take over now? Superficially, we’ve seen some recent signs that the regime was accelerating Kim Jong Eun’s deification, suggesting that it knew Kim Jong Il’s health was declining rapidly. Behind the scenes, it will be a collective leadership. Some people to watch are Kim Jong Il’s sister Kim Kyong-Hui, her (possibly estranged) husband, Jang Song Thaek, and master counterfeiter O Kuk Ryol.

Is diplomacy now a real possibility? No, but with Kim out of the way, an internal power struggle could soon commence, the result of which could create the conditions for that. Watch who comes out on the reviewing stand, and watch how the regime behaves. There won’t be a Pyongyang Spring anytime soon. The next weeks will either feature complete governmental paralysis or an unscheduled broadcast, followed by a series of unscheduled military deployments. One piece of good news is that the latest reports of a diplomatic “breakthrough” will come to nothing now, which is a much faster and cheaper way of achieving exactly the same thing.

It is a depressing thing to see a man who caused so much death and misery die untried and unpunished. It makes me want to believe that there is a hell, other than the one thatNorth Korea itself became because of Kim Jong Il’s necrocratic misrule. Here is a man who belongs alongside Pol Pot as one of the most destructive men who ever lived, one who would belong in the same category as Hitler or Stalin if he had ruled a country with a larger population or GDP. The legacy of Kim Jong Il will be of the millions he starved for his own profligacy and megalomania, and of the hundreds of thousands more who perished in the cruelest system of prison camps on this earth since Stalin died in 1953. When men like this die in their beds, the very idea of justice dies a little, too.

Update: The BBC has video of the announcement on North Korean state television.

Update: Here’s what I’d written about Kim Jong Eun for the New Ledger last year:

Not much else seems remarkable about Kim Jong-Eun, the new Porcine Prince of Pyongyang. It’s unlikely that he’ll be as much a successor to Kim Jong-Il as a figurehead for a junta of his septuagenarian minions. If we were speaking of any place but North Korea, it would count as remarkable that we know so little about him. We think that he is somewhere between 26 and 28, and that his mother was the actress Ko Young-Hee, whom Kim Jong Il expropriated from her then-husband but never married, and who later went mad and died in Moscow. Kenji Fujimoto, who spent part of North Korea’s Great Famine making sushi for Kim Jong-Il, says Jong-Eun inherited his father’s appearance and his narcissistic personality traits. Maybe he studied in Switzerland, and then again, maybe that was his younger brother Kim Jong-Chol, the one who possibly likes Eric Clapton, has a hormonal imbalance, and acts “like a girl.” It wasn’t until January of 2009 that Japanese and South Korean media first began to report on the regime’s campaign to deify him.

Our first look at Kim Jong-Eun has answered a few important questions. For one thing, we may have just found where all our food aid went. With all that we don’t know about North Korea, I’m confident in my disbelief that this is a face starving people will accept as a legitimate ruler and benefactor. South Koreans certainly were quick to poke the elephant in the room. As the British scholar Aidan Foster-Carter put it, “He sure looks like he gave up basketball.”

Of course, Kim Jong Il wore his own kleptocratic girth until his stroke in 2008, but even the dictator of a starving nation can survive if he wears his corpulence with confidence. Kim Jong Il had spent the decades before his father’s death cultivating relationships with his father’s generals. Now look at Jong-Eun’s eyes. There is cruelty and arrogance in them, but it’s the fear I see. That’s the sort of face a suburban sex offender wears to the exercise yard at Pelican Bay. No matter how many icons of him are placed in living rooms, classrooms, or lapel pins, he will spend the rest of his life stepping warily within a nest of vipers. The real power will stay with Kim Jong Il’s old comrades and relatives: Kim Young Il; Jang Song-Thaek, whose portfolio includes North Korea’s political prison camps; General Ri Yong-Ho; General O Kuk-Ryol, whose family controls the counterfeiting rackets; and Kim Jong Il’s sister (and Jang’s wife) Kim Kyong-Hui, who is said to have pushed hard for North Korea’s disastrous currency redenomination and confiscation last year. As a partial consequence of that, refugees report finding the night’s toll of the dead lying around the train stations each morning. That is why any hopes that this transition is a harbinger of reforms are probably false. The state isn’t interested in reform, and Kim Jong-Eun’s coronation won’t change that, because it is a sham. But that doesn’t mean that the regime can stop change forever.

Until public opinion polling becomes possible in North Korea, we will have to rely on anecdotal reports, clandestine cell phones, and defectors to gauge the reaction of the people to a medieval succession in a nominally socialist state. What reports we do have are overwhelmingly unfavorable for Jong-Eun, whose function is, after all, to be a genetic vessel for the legitimacy of a deiocracy once their god finally dies. If so, Jong-Eun may have outlived his usefulness. One defector claims that North Koreans openly call Kim Jong-Eun “an immature little bastard” who is “more savage than his father” and “a scoundrel who relies on his father’s power to do whatever he wants.” Students in Pyongyang and other cities criticize the feudal dynastic succession from father to son and call it “a betrayal of socialism.” Some North Koreans blame him for exhausting mass labor mobilizations and last year’s disastrous currency confiscation. Kim Eun Ho, a former North Korean policeman and now a correspondent for a Seoul-based radio station that broadcasts to North Korea, says, “For general citizens, Kim Jong Eun is vastly unpopular …. People cannot take him seriously, in reality. He just suddenly appeared, and he’s too young.” This discontent, by itself, is less consequential than the fact that North Koreans express it openly to fellow citizens, at least to the ones they trust.

It will have occurred to you by now that North Korea’s next mid-term election has yet to be scheduled, and that there is no effective opposition to its system. That is all true, and North Korea’s only hope is that these things should change. We can only hope — they can only hope — that somewhere in the outer provinces, a Madame Defarge works patiently at her knitting. At the confluence of desperation and hope, an organized opposition will eventually coalesce. The thought of trying to survive until the end of Kim Jong-Eun’s natural life should supply ample desperation.

It suddenly strikes me that the gathering of crowds for choreographed mourning ceremonies will be a volatile moment. If the clandestine reporting is accurate, Kim Jong Eun inspires loathing, but the regime has had little opportunity to deify him. I doubt that he inspires anything like confidence or respect (maybe “awe” is the word I’ve been searching for) in the minds of most North Koreans. To them, the idea of being ruled by this third-generation tyrant for the rest of their lives must be almost unimaginably dreary.

More updates, 19 Dec 2011:

First Bin Laden, then Khaddafy, and now Kim Jong Il. Overall, 2011 had more joyous obituaries than any year I can remember. It’s plausible to hope that Bashar Asad, Ayman Zawahiri, and Kim Jong Eun will be the most likely joyous obituaries of 2012.

Psychologically, so much has changed in North Korea. The regime was not really ready for this day. Its deification of Kim Jong-Eun has been uncharacteristically halting, even timid. The regime understands how volatile a moment this is. The Daily NK reports that it has closed its border with China, closed all markets, imposed a near-curfew, and filled the streets of at least one city with armed soldiers. This is not the reaction of a state that expects its subjects to erupt in spontaneous grief.

North Korea isn’t sending a conciliatory message to the outside world, either. Shortly after it announced Kim Jong-Il’s death, it tested a short-range missile off its east coast. South Korea is halting all visits to North Korea by its citizens, except at the Kaesong Industrial Park.


Say what? It’s Lee Myung Bak’s birthday? That’s just too much.

Also, video from Pyongyang. Faking or not? In such a place as North Korea, it can’t be hard to find reasons to cry real tears.

Some reactions:

Bruce Klingner: “Kim Jong-un is a pale reflection of his father and grandfather. He has not had the decades of grooming and securing of a power base that Jong-il enjoyed before assuming control from his father. [He] may feel it necessary in the future to precipitate a crisis to prove his mettle to other senior leaders or deflect attention from the regime’s failings.”

Joshua Trevino: “I’d like to think God let Havel and Hitchens pick the third.” It’s a nice thought, but I suspect Hitchens would still be (is?) insisting to God that He doesn’t exist.

Robert Kaplan’s 2006 discussion of regime collapse in North Korea is worth rereading.

It seems appropriate to reprise two pieces by Christopher Hitchens. The first one is also the source of my masthead image; the second is a review of Brian Myers’s “The Cleanest Race.”

I would add: the story of Kim Jong Il’s misrule was best told by Barbara Demick, but the story that hasn’t been told is the story of how the free world lost its conscience in the face of Kim Jong Il’s crimes against humanity. For various reasons — nationalism, partisanship, Chinese malevolence, political expediency — the consciences of the Human Rights Industry, South Korea, America, and the U.N. were all paralyzed as U.S. and South Korean taxpayers were conscripted into the vile work of prolonging Kim Jong Il’s misrule through aid that was too easily diverted. Kim Jong Il’s misrule was terminated by more-or-less natural causes because of the banality of diplomacy.

Some Fascinating-if-True Reports from North Korea

Everyone knows that North Korea does a lot of things that we can’t explain without resorting to mostly groundless speculation about its internal power politics. This goes beyond cultural differences. I don’t know any South Koreans who can explain things like the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong incidents, which imposed real (if insufficient) financial and diplomatic costs on the regime. In our conversations, not even Kim Kwang Jin claimed to understand for certain why Kim Jong Il does things that appear to harm his own interests.

Most of the speculative explanations about North Korea’s power politics also have flaws. For example, there ought to be ways that are less politically costly to elevate the reputation of Kim Jong-Eun than ways that only increase the hardships and discontent of the very people they’re supposed to be meant to influence. At some point, you have to admit that North Korea’s bigger decisions certainly look irrational. That’s the theory Andrei Lankov has inclined to for at least a year, and according to this report, North Koreans are starting to agree:

Rumors that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is suffering from dementia are spreading quickly across the isolated country. Reports say the leader is increasingly incoherent during his so-called on-the-spot guidance trips.

When Kim watched the 1960s propaganda play “Sanwoolim (Echo)” during an inspection of a military base in Kangwon Province recently, he reportedly described it as “a masterpiece that is bound to lead the revolution in the future.” Party cadres were dumbfounded to hear him praise the old show as if he had never seen it before. [Chosun Ilbo]

The report itself sounds apocryphal, but it jibes with recent events.

Our next report suggests that Sohn Hak-Kyu might have trouble finding North Koreans to help him plan his Olympic village:

North Korea has reportedly purged 30 officials who participated in inter-Korean talks or supervised bilateral dialogue via execution by firing squad or staged traffic accidents. A South Korean government source said Thursday, “Thirty people have been confirmed to have died or gone missing until recently. About 10 partners of inter-Korean talks with the South were executed by firing and about 20 others were said to have died in traffic accidents.

“As of now, the North has no partners to talk with the South. There will likely be major change in inter-Korean relations.

Seoul said all Pyongyang officials who attended secret inter-Korean contacts are being purged, which clearly demonstrates that the internal organization of the North`s communist regime is extremely unstable and fragile. The power struggle in Pyongyang is intensifying in the course of the power succession of heir apparent Kim Jong Un, and hardliners are accordingly gaining ground while those in support of dialogue are losing ground, analysts say. [Donga Ilbo]

I can believe that the North Korean regime has plenty of closet dissidents, plenty of factions, and plenty of purges, but I’ve never put much credence in any theory that holds that there are factions of hard- and soft-liners plotting against one another within the North Korean regime. Of course, no one outside of Pyongyang knows the real truth, but I’d guess that the factions fight over more practical things, like turf and money. And until recently, South Korea was North Korea’s automatic teller. To a hopeful outside observer, an interest in hauling in South Korean money might be mistaken for an ideological interest in improving inter-Korean relations, even reform. I just don’t see the evidence for it.

It also has the whiff of disinformation. Selig Harrison has been peddling a particularly fantastic variation of this hard-line/soft-line stuff for years to try to persuade American diplomats that we should give North Korea more concessions to help the soft-line faction — concessions that never seem to win us any lasting security benefits or visibly alter the regime’s character. I incline toward the view that Harrison and others are picking up on North Korean disinformation designed to extract concessions from us. But of course, this news doesn’t come from Selig Harrison, so it isn’t necessarily false.

Kim Jong Nam denounces his family’s rule

There is one North Korean who enjoys a measure of freedom of speech:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s eldest son says the North should abandon the “Songun” or military first doctrine and pursue reforms and open up. Kim Jong-nam (39), who was passed over for the succession in favor of his 20-something brother, made the remarks in an interview with the Tokyo Shimbun.

He also commented on the North Korean artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, referring to the waters surrounding the South Korean island as a “battle zone,” and said there are “forces” in the North Korean regime who are trying to use the attack to justify the Songun doctrine and nuclear weapons.

My first reaction: watch your back. My second reaction: he’s positioning himself to take power in a post-Kim Jong Il era, perhaps as a Chinese-backed Pu Yi figure.

Kim Jong-nam said the currency reform in late 2009 was a “failure.” “I do not believe people’s lives are improving,” he said, adding it is time for North Korea to start reforms and open up.

Rumor: Kim Jong Il Just Three Years from Becoming “Eternal” Chairman

As much as I admire Open News for its reporting from North Korea’s towns, villages, and markets, these inside-baseball reports from within the royal court in Pyongyang aren’t the sort in which I tend to put much stock, so take this for what it’s worth:

Doctors in North Korea have given the country’s leader Kim Jong-il three years to live, Open Radio for North Korea claimed Friday.

Quoting what it said was a high-level North Korean source, the broadcaster said a comprehensive medical check-up last month by a special medical department under the Guard Command, a military unit assigned to protect Kim, shows that he has “at most three years to live.” His ailments including laryngitis and kidney disorders became chronic after he recovered from a stroke, it said.

We saw a whole series of similarly sources reports right after the stroke. One claimed that South Korean intelligence had intercepted Kim Jong Il’s brain scan, and another giddily reported that Kim Jong Il had recovered the ability to brush his own teeth.

If there was ever any cognizable justice in holding Gomes in a prison cell for peacefully presenting a petition to North Korean border guards, it ended months ago.

North Korea says an American man being held for illegally crossing its border has tried to kill himself. A statement issued by the regime’s official Korean Central News Agency says Aijalon Mahli Gomes’ suicide attempt was “driven by his strong guilty conscience,” plus disappointment and despair that the U.S. government “has not taken any measure for his freedom.”

This is a transparent demand for ransom, and our government has legal tools for responding to terrorist tactics like this (sadly, it lacks the spine and the sac to use them). Gomes hasn’t been allowed to speak to his mom since April. And while I won’t criticize Robert Park for his still-unretracted confession until I’ve done a little time in a North Korean prison, I’ve noticed that Gomes hasn’t given his captors any such thing.


Speaking of hostages, the Daily NK reports that more than ten North Korean refugees have been living in the Japanese Embassy in Beijing for the last two years, held hostage to Chinese demands that Japan could not legally accede to without violating the same Refugee Convention that China itself flagrantly violates:

Several North Korean defectors who are under the protection of Japanese consular offices in China have not been able to leave China. The Chinese government has been asking Japan to sign an agreement to no longer accept North Korean defectors in exchange for letting them leave the country. [Wall Street Journal, via the Asahi Shimbun]


In most countries, the civil service is known for its generous health benefits for family members. That may be true in North Korea, too, but benefits like that must surely be outweighed by risks like these:

North Korea’s Ministry of State Security last month sent 34 relatives of former economic official Pak Nam Gi and others to a prison camp on the outskirts of the northern city of Hoeryong, Seoul-based Good Friends said on its website. [....]

On June 14, the relatives of Pak and other officials were collected and forcibly loaded into a wagon before being sent to the prison camp, the organization reported, citing an unidentified official at the North’s security ministry. The authorities transported the relatives in the middle of night in part to keep it a secret from the rest of the world to avoid international criticism, the official was quoted as saying.


Grimly, Kang Chol Hwan looks forward to a less horrible future for Korea.

Kang Cheol-Hwan, North Korean defector and activist, thinks Kim Jong Il’s brutal North Korean regime will collapse within three years, five years at the most. But the prospect doesn’t make him giddy. On the contrary, the imminent fall of the one of the world’s most repressive states just means more work. However much he wants North and South Korea to be reunified, he knows that how it happens is as important as reunification itself.

“If it’s done wrong, it will fail,” Kang told me last week when he was in town to attend a conference on the fate of the North Korean regime. As founding director of the North Korea Strategy Center, a nonprofit in Seoul, Kang works to prepare North Korean defectors for leadership roles after reunification. But in many ways, he works just as hard to prepare South Koreans — and even Korean Americans — for the inevitability of a unified Korea. And its discontents.


The Chosun Ilbo wonders if Kim Jong Il’s stroke has had more of an effect than some of us had thought:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has ordered the demolition and rebuilding of a theater that was in perfect condition, adding to suspicions that his judgment is becoming severely impaired as a result of a stroke in 2008. Citing North Korean sources, Radio Free Asia reported on Monday that a national theater in Pyongyang was demolished in May and is being reconstructed. People there “seem to wonder why a building that was just renovated in 2003 is being rebuilt.”

The theater was torn down on May 9 just after Kim watched a play there, making his first public appearance since his visit to China early that month. Kim had apparently watched another performance of the same play there on April 27 and after his second visit had enough and ordered it rebuilt.

“It’s strange enough to watch the same play twice in less than two weeks, but it’s even more absurd to order the reconstruction of a building that was renovated just seven years ago,” said a South Korean intelligence official. “It appears that the aftereffects of Kim Jong-il’s stroke are more serious than we thought.”

It just pains me to think of all the yachts, centrifuges, Mayback sedans, and razor wire the children of North Korea have been denied because of the wasteful spending of its politicians on make-work patronage projects.


Open News talks about the impact of foreign broadcasting on North Korean soldiers.

Kim Jong Il’s on-the-spot guidance does for North Korean soccer what it did for North Korean agriculture and industry

At last, something interesting has happened at the World Cup after all. The North Korean team was crushed by Portugal in the most lopsided World Cup score in eight years, eliminating North Korea from the competition, and greatly advancing my personal objective of ignoring the rest of the World Cup.

The question on everyone’s lips now is whether the North Korean players or their families will face retribution for this loss. I really don’t know the answer to that, and although the speculation is not completely groundless, it’s too real to be legitimately amusing. To the extent anyone has a basis to ask the question, you also have to question the sporting league’s decision to invite that country to participate in the tournament at all. A case in point would be Uday Hussein’s “management” of the Iraqi Olympic team. Saddam Husein’s Iraq shouldn’t have been invited to the Olympics at all, and the OIC was complicit with the torture of Iraqi athletes for extending the invitation. FIFA and the OIC owe it to the North Korean athletes to pursue any similar such questions that are legitimately raised.

With that being said, I don’t hesitate to identify one North Korean who should face a firing squad: the imbecile who provided strategy advice to the North Korean coach before the game:

North Korean manager Kim Jong-Hun reportedly gets coaching advice directly from the country’s diminutive dictator via an invisible cell phone.

According to the coach has claimed he gets “regular tactical advice during matches” from Jong Il “using mobile phones that are not visible to the naked eye.”

“Jong Il is said to have developed the technology himself,” coach told

And to think that some people wonder why I blog about North Korea.

And not for the first time, the results of on-the-spot guidance speak for themselves. It certainly suggests some first-rate content for the next load of DVD’s those defectors and activists float into North Korea. Each would begin with Coach Kim’s statement about this unique medium of on-the-spot guidance, and then would cut straight to a montage of all seven Portuguese goals, and finally, the glum faces on North Korea’s rented ChiCom cheering section.

Updates: Let’s begin on a lighter note. A reader forwarded this link, which I thought was pretty damn funny, even if I can’t vouch for its authenticity.

And in retrospect, this may not have been the best occasion for North Korea to experiment with live broadcasting:

North Korea picked the wrong moment to allow its people to see a bit more of the outside world. The authoritarian regime was so proud of its soccer team in the World Cup that it allowed an unprecedented live broadcast back home of the match against Portugal — a rarity for the communist nation that normally exerts strict control over the media.

What ensued was a different sort of history: North Koreans, used to seeing only positive news about their reclusive country, watched as their soccer team received the worst drubbing so far in this year’s tournament and was prevented from advancing to the next round.

As the 7-0 loss to Portugal concluded, the North Koreans quickly halted Monday’s coverage. “The Portuguese won the game and now have four points,” the Korean Central Broadcasting commentator said. “We are ending our live broadcast now.” [AP, Jean H. Lee]

The only thing needed to make this conform perfectly to stereotype would be if state TV immediately switched to stock footage of happy workers praising you-know-who:

It then cut to factory workers and engineers praising North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

I wonder what stereotype will be validated next. From the report, it sounds like the North Korean players and coach left the field genuinely dejected. One can certainly image multiple reasons for that. To those of us who watch North Korea closely, the assurances of the North Korean coach that no one will be punished for playing badly aren’t really all that reassuring.

In a rather apt illustration of how the good intentions behind “engagement” often tend to do more harm than good for North Koreans, we’re reminded of a side of North Korean sports that sportswriters prefer not to write about. Incidentally, stop me if you’ve heard this reporter’s name somewhere before:

The 23 men training in Tembisa are their country’s most visible ambassadors, among the few North Koreans allowed to travel overseas. At home, they’re already heroes, bestowed with medals and merit citations and honored on postage stamps unveiled last week to commemorate the team’s success in qualifying for the World Cup.

With that honor comes pressure. Moon Ki-nam, a former national-level North Korea coach who defected to South Korea in 2004, said players are handsomely rewarded with coveted apartments if they win internationally but are punished, some sent to coal mines, if they lose.

Even some of the feted players from the 1966 team were said to have been sent to one of North Korea’s infamous labor camps for squandering a promising 3-0 lead to lose to a Eusebio-led Portugal in the quarterfinals. [AP, Laura Ling]

Hat tip to Theresa D for this one.

Leave aside the obvious comparison to the World Cup’s current host which, in the not-so-distant past, was isolated and ostracized globally for human rights abuses that never approached the severity of those in North Korea today.

Perhaps because I’m just not that into soccer, I can view it with some detached perspective and say that basic sportsmanship shouldn’t be negotiable, nor should the health and welfare of the players. That’s why any country caught doping its players or feeding them steroids would face a variety of sanctions, including team suspension, under FIFA’s rather intricate disciplinary code. And you mean to tell me that a country suspected of intimidating and possibly imprisoning its players wouldn’t? Well, let me know if you can see where that’s specifically prohibited.

Our speculation about our darkest fears for the North Korean players isn’t exactly groundless, but why speculate? FIFA can always ask for the right to do what the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Food Program can’t: inspect and monitor. If FIFA has the right to take blood samples from players for countries all over the world, what would really be so intrusive about it demanding the right to check in on the members of the team every few months? Doesn’t this concern actually dwarf those that justify FIFA’s aggressive and expensive anti-doping program?

Viewed in this context, you have to ask yourself just how responsible FIFA was to allow a low-ranked team representing a despotic regime with a history of sending losing players to the gulag into the World Cup.

A Field Guide to the Septuagenarian Apparatchiks of North Korea

The Chosun Ilbo, profiling who sat where as the North Koreans (a very few of them) feasted in Beijing, gives us a great who’s who photo.


The caption reads:

Clockwise from top left, Kim Yong-chun, Hyon Chol-Hae and Ri Myong-su (directors of the National Defense Commission), Choe Thae-bok, Kim Ki-nam, Jang Song-taek, Kim Yang-gon, Kim Yong-il, Kang Sok-ju, Tae Jong-soo, Kim Pyong-hae (Workers’ Party secretary for North Pyongan Province), and Ju Kyu-chang /Yonhap

There’s also more evidence that Jang Song-Thaek will be the real successor to Kim Jong Il. In many important ways, he probably already is.