SBS Presenter/Reporter Kathy Novak talks to Dr Leonid Petrov from the Department of Korean Studies at the University of Sydney about the appointment of North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un as Marshall and the top-level changes he has made.
Here is a transcript of the interview.
Kathy Novak: Dr Petrov, what does this appointment of Kim Jong-Un as Marshall mean?
Dr Leonid Petrov: I think it is the culminating point of the transition – the power transition in North Korea. Kim Jong-Un’s father died seven months ago and he bequeathed a number of people who supervised Kim Jong-Un’s smooth transition into the top driving seat in the country. This week we just saw the ousting of the former supervisor of Kim Jong-Un, Vice Marshall Ri Yong-Ho, the one who was appointed by Kim Jong-Un as the supervisor for Kim Jong Un. It looks like the family decided that Kim Jong-Un is mature enough to rule the country single-handedly. He is now the supreme commander, the Marshall of the Korean People’s Army and the first secretary of the central committee of the Korean Worker’s Party and the legitimate heir for the Kim’s dynasty to rule the country.
Kathy Novak: We’ve seen other signs of change this week including the televised concert with Disney characters featured. What do you make of all of that?
Dr Leonid Petrov: I think that was another dimension of this transition process because along with Kim Jong-Un in the concert which happened just a day or two before these major events in politics were unfolding, we saw a mysterious lady accompanying Kim Jong-Un, it’s his partner Hyon Song Wol, a former dancer from Bonchonbo dancing group. Obviously, it’s a new step in Kim Jong-Un’s image. He is now being hooked by North Koreans as a mature man, head of the family, not just the youngest in Kim Jong-Il’s family as the youngest son but as the person who is mature both family wise and political wise. Now in terms of military power, he is the supreme person in North Korea too.
Kathy Novak: So do you think all of these signals and upcoming change in foreign policy when it comes to relations with South Korea and also the West?
Dr Leonid Petrov: With South Korea, relations can continue to be at its lowest point as it is now but it’s not just Kim Jong-Un’s fault. Now that the conservative government in South Korea came into power 5 years ago with promise to be pragmatic towards North Korea, but rather they were ideological and inter-Korean relations collapsed completely. A couple of years ago we saw they were nearly very close to the point of war. This year November, South Korea is going to have the national elections and we will see the change of governments. We don’t know whether it will continue to be conservative, liberal or progressive government as much will depend on what happens in Seoul. Not just Seoul but also Washington DC is playing an important role. This year’s election in the United States and if the Obama administration continues to stay in power and the second Obama administration may be willing to see both Korean states reconciling, we might witness much more dynamic interaction between North and South, dialogue cooperation and possibly reconciliation – something that we saw during this ten year of Sunshine Policy between 1998 and 2008.
Kathy Novak: Have there been much reaction so far to these changes from the United States?
Dr Leonid Petrov: The Unites States continue to unfortunately in the last four years of the Obama administration was kind of hands-off policy towards North Korea. Periodically, Obama was offering all of the olive branch to Pyongyang but the signals coming from North Korea were very mixed. Remember that the “Leap Day” agreement of 29th February which actually gave a lot of expectation and optimism to Pyongyang watchers that United States might improve their relations. But just ten days later North Korea announced the launch of the rocket which derailed completely this progress. So there were on and off attempts to improve relations but it didn’t eventualise and simply we can’t see any fruit so we will have to wait until the end of this year.
Kathy Novak: Now we’re trying to read these small signs of change of North Korea but of course it’s such a closed state. How hard is it to predict what will happen?
Dr Petrov: It’s impossible to predict what will happen simply because there are too many factors again. It’s not just Pyongyang. It’s also Seoul factor and Washington factor so we will have to wait till the end of this year. But what we can say for sure is that Kim Jong-Un has a very difficult task to perform. He is expected to bring North Korea to a state of prosperity, security and economic development – something what his father promised. The year 2012 was the centennial anniversary of Kim Jong-Un’s grandfather. So far, North Korea demonstrates some superficial signs of prosperity like new types of concerts – Minnie and Mickey Mouse dancing on national TV and Kim Jong-Un is in the limelight with the first lady. Old vice Marshalls being demoted and new figures being promoted – younger generations is coming. But there’s not any sign or any hint at the change of the direction. Simply North Korea can’t reform itself. The problem is that the state is a hostage of its own history. So many lies, so many horrible things were perpetrated during the 65 years of Kim’s dynasty rule in North Korea that Kim Jong-Un cannot reform the country, cannot open it up, cannot democratise it. Otherwise it won’t be North Korea. It will be uncontrolled unification and there could be a mass riot. I’m rather pessimistic about the developments in North Korea. It looks like it will continue to change and form but not in content.
Kathy Novak: Dr Petrov, thanks very much.
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