Does the world underestimate Kim Jong-un?

By Tan Furong Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/11 20:43:39

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un marked his 34th birthday on Monday. The very next day he hit international headlines. Kim's name was repeatedly mentioned in reports about "inter-Korean talks at the truce village of Panmunjom for signs of thaw," "the North and South Korean delegations likely to enter the stadium together during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics," "the reconnection of a military hot line on the western Korean Peninsula," and "the reunion of family members separated during the Korean War."

It is hard to find another young man like Kim. He teases the US president any time; keeps the rest of the world from knowing about him despite extensive media coverage; and in the Korean Peninsula crisis - the world's most sophisticated and dangerous geopolitical game - he is much more in control of the developments than the South.

But the outside world is used to stereotyping him. CNN noted in a recent story on Kim, "Keen observers have said he's sick, and suffers from gout. They've said he's isolated and in danger of being overthrown, and that there are assassination plots against him. That he's weak and spoiled and surrounded by yes-men. There's no sign, however, of that happening any time soon."

Pyongyang rushed to develop its nuclear weapons program against the wishes of the international community. Western media outlets frequently applied "paranoid," "cold," "morbid" and the like to describe him.

It seems, however, that no one can stop him from being capricious. Some said Kim has got everything he wants - a consolidated regime, nuclear weapons, and improvement in his people's livelihood. Now he is seeking to break the stalemate in inter-Korean ties to change Pyongyang's extremely isolated status.

Have we all underestimated the young man?

In the US, some feel they might have been led astray by unreliable information from Seoul. "South Korea has its own long-standing narrative, portraying the northern regime as weak, isolated and unstable. Government sources have leaked 'credible' information that was later proven to be false," CNN said.

But the fact is: "Since his ascension to the supreme leadership of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as North Korea is officially known, Kim has wasted little time embracing his grandfather's dual-track policy of military development alongside economic growth."

The consequence is severe. Washington has miscalculated where Pyongyang stands.

Early last year, a US intelligence official told the Donald Trump administration that the North's young leader "faced a range of troubles" and "would be unable to strike continental United States until 2020, perhaps even 2022."

"Within months, those comforting assessments looked wildly out of date," said The New York Times. The misjudgment is perceived as one of the biggest faults of US intelligence.

They underestimated Pyongyang's access to "advanced computer modeling and foreign expertise" and misjudged Kim, who is more obsessed with nuclear development than his father and grandfather. The latter assumption, which is faulty, might prove more fatal.

Kim reiterates food is more important than bullets. Despite sanctions that almost destroyed the North's foreign trade, he has still managed to achieve a kind of self-sufficient economy.

His relatively relaxed agricultural policy and more flexible market management are cited as major reasons for the improvement in living standards of the middle and lower classes.

Whether the North Korean regime would remain stable was also once questioned as Kim was under 30 when he took power. But undoubtedly, he has established supreme authority in North Korea, observers noted. Meanwhile, he has cultivated a generation of young cadres to ensure a smooth leadership shift.

If Kim has gained acceptance from the older generation because of his Mount Paektu bloodline, he is more popular among young North Koreans for his personality.

Nonetheless, all of these cannot cover his diplomatic failures over the years. His basketball diplomacy flunked; meanwhile, a slew of African countries cut off ties with the North. The biggest Waterloo among these is the increasingly remote Beijing-Pyongyang ties. Being hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons has placed North Korea in unprecedented diplomatic isolation. This might be Kim's choice after meticulous calculation, but it's in no way a wise one.

At a staggering pace, the two Koreas garnered multiple achievements through the talks at Panmunjom. Some media outlets even started discussing the prospect of the first meeting between Kim and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in, which may signal a change in Kim's South Korea policy.

Whether Seoul will be a breakthrough in Pyongyang's new diplomatic maneuver to break its isolation remains to be seen. The key to the Korean Peninsula crisis lies in "nuclear." Regardless, many are watching as the drama between the "little rocket man" and "mentally deranged dotard" unfolds.

The author is a commentator with the Chinese edition of the Global Times. The article first appeared on Buyidao (buyidao2016), a WeChat public account.


blog comments powered by Disqus