US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Rumors about the death of Kim Jong-un, circulated in the world media for a week, have been refuted. Moreover, he was awarded the Russian jubilee medal for the 75th anniversary of the Victory. What problems did his alleged death highlight and who really cares about the fate of the leader of North Korea?
On May 1, after 20 days of absence, Kim Jong-un appeared in public. Prior to this, the media actively discussed the causes of his possible death. Some media even hastened to appoint his sister Kim Yo Jong to succeed Kim. The last time rumors about Kim’s death were in 2014, when he also disappeared from sight for some time.
Today it seems strange that in a world where there is no shortage of news, where more than 3 million people are infected with a new type of virus, at a time when oil prices have reached historic lows, in anticipation of the global economic crisis against the backdrop of months-long isolation of the population, they get out of top news semi-credible discussions about the state of health of the leader of a country that has been practically shut off from the life of the international community. Does it really matter what Kim’s real state of health is?
Everyone needs a stable Korea
The main trading partner of the DPRK is China: it accounts for more than 90% of the country’s total trade. At the same time, the South Korean agency Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency indicates that , due to sanctions, the DPRK’s foreign trade with China in 2018 decreased by 48.2% to US $ 2.7 billion. Despite such modest figures, the DPRK remains an important political actor. in the region.
DPRK is a country with nuclear weapons. That is why the Korean question has long been a significant factor in shaping the policies of the largest global and regional players: the USA, China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea. The United States uses the fact that North Korea has nuclear weapons to build up its military presence in the region. Japan justifies the need for militarization.
China, in turn, uses its position as North Korea’s largest trading partner as an argument in bidding on a number of controversial issues with the same US and Japan. It is China that has a real – not power – instrument of influence on North Korean leaders.
Particularly interested in the stability of the DPRK regime in South Korea. Southerners have not long been eager to reunite with their neighbors. This desire remained declarative in the public rhetoric of the authorities: North Korea is not particularly rich in mineral resources, the income level of the population of the two countries differs by different estimates from 15 to 30 times, and no one wants to accept 25 million dependents in case of crisis.
Russia, among others, has very specific economic interests: the development of a special economic zone in Rajin, access through the territory of the DPRK to the ports of South Korea and the possibility of developing the Trans-Siberian Railway, which the Russian government is actively promoting as an alternative transport corridor for international shipping from the Asia-Pacific Region to Europe.
North Koreans themselves use their nuclear weapons as a guarantee of regime stability, and controlled outbreaks of aggression as a tool to ease sanctions and receive humanitarian and economic assistance from the international community.
Thus, a certain status quo is maintained. No one is interested in the destruction of North Korean statehood. From the point of view of maintaining stability in the DPRK, information on the status of Kim Jong-un should really be important. But in fact, it turns out that the leadership function itself is important as a guarantee of North Korea’s stability, and not the personality of a particular Kim.
In the eye of the beholder
In the current situation, the hype in the media space and theory, built around Kim’s disappearance, speak more about the state and mood of Western society, primarily the United States. In the absence of reliable information, as in the case of abstract aliens, the inner experiences and fears of the mass consciousness are projected onto the mystery object.
The first is the presumption of guilt. Rumors about events in the DPRK of varying degrees of phantasmagorical appear regularly: “members of the country’s top leadership who were fallen out of favor were shot from artillery guns,” “North Korean intelligence agencies organize massive thefts from cryptocurrency accounts around the world,” “Kim Jong-un ordered to shoot his ex-girlfriend “Kim is dead, but they hide it from everyone.” This, of course, is the result of long propaganda regarding the DPRK.
Secondly, the belief in the stability of the DPRK political system, as indicated by the attempt to “appoint a successor” to Kim, is only a continuation of this pattern. With regard to the DPRK, there is indeed a certain status quo. But in everyday consciousness, a complex system of balance of interests, checks and balances turns into a “conspiracy of the world government.” As a conspiracy, silence models are perceived in public discourse.
Finally, faith in personal opinion and unofficial sources played a role. Media space has changed a lot with the advent of social networks. There was a striking dichotomy when there is a paranoid war with fake news on the one hand, and on the other, even professional journalists a priori interpret official information exclusively “on the contrary,” referring to unverified sources and private opinions.
The noise level, which, against the backdrop of more relevant events, is raised not by some tabloids, but by leading international publications, makes us consider the problem seriously. Huge social stratification and economic instability make people prejudice the representatives of the elite and power structures – this is a form of mistrust of the authorities.
Russia in North Korea
Russia is one of the most important participants in the “six-sided format” that exists around the DPRK problem: Russia has a direct land border with the DPRK, and there is a direct rail link. At the same time, Russia occupies less than 2% in the DPRK foreign trade, about $ 48 million at the end of 2019 . Neither the projects of the special zone in Rajin, nor the Trans-Siberian Railway, nor transport corridors within the framework of the Tumangan Initiative have received significant development in recent years.
Moreover, the role of Russia in organizing the last inter-Korean summit against the backdrop of the meeting between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump seemed completely insignificant. The position of Russia is not that it has changed since Kim Jong-un came to power.
Each time controversial issues arise around the DPRK, the question arises of Russia’s ability to take part in resolving them for the benefit of itself. For Russia, it’s not the specific Kim that matters, but the attitude towards all participants in the political process in the country, the ability to resolve issues with any leader of North Korea.
As for the rumors about the death of Kim Jong-un, it is rather important here about what processes in Russia they can tell. The Russian public and the government have more pressing problems, including those whose symptoms are evidenced by the unfolding discourse: social stratification, massive mistrust of power as a system and a crisis of media, traditional and new. How successfully society and the state can solve them is extremely important: in the structure of these problems, the imaginary death of Kim Jong-un is only a factor.
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