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Dear Leader Departs

Russia, as Winston Churchill famously said, is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

But Russia was and is as transparent as glass compared to the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of (North) Korea.  Now that the Dear Leader has gone to meet Joe Stalin and Adolf Hitler in the Great Beyond, the world’s experts are scratching their heads about what comes next — and aren’t coming up with much.

“There are a lot of people who will initially cheer his death until they see what comes next,” said Scott Snyder of the Asia Foundation.  That’s probably a good call; the people running the DPRK are pretty hard boiled and aren’t likely to promote Korean style glasnost and perestroika.

On my trip to northeastern China last fall, I had the chance to meet with some of that country’s top North Korea experts, people who between them have visited Beijing’s frustrating neighbor scores of times in recent years.  Their unanimous verdict: the North Korean regime is here to stay.  They are tough, they are organized, they are focused on the task of regime survival and they will do what it takes to stay in the saddle.  This wasn’t said in sympathy; on a human level Chinese scholars seem to find this regime about as weird and repellant as we do — more repellant, perhaps, since many Chinese scholars suffered under the Cultural Revolution in their youth.

Regimes like this are often stable until quite suddenly they aren’t, and nobody outside North Korea knows enough about the inner workings of the place to say much about its politics that is sensible.  I haven’t been there myself since the end of the period of mourning for the Great Leader, back in those halcyon days when the Dear Leader’s rule was still young and full of hope; it seems unlikely that the Next Leader, still in his twenties, will rule as long as his father and grandfather did — but it can’t be ruled out.

Check out the coverage of the Dear Leader’s death here and here.  But don’t hold your breath waiting for change.

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  • Walter Sobchak

    Succession is tough enough in countries where tradition and law make the path clear. The odds are, that unless the heir apparent is much tougher and smarter than he is likely to be, there will be a struggle, one that could lead to regime collapse.

    The most important hidden variable is what the Chinese are thinking and doing.

  • Luke Lea

    “Russia was and is as transparent as glass compared to the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of (North) Korea.”

    With the Democratic Republic of China somewhere in between?

  • Kris

    Another one cheats the lamppost.

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