Kim Jong-un And His Controversies in North Korea

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Kim Jong-un and His Controversies in North Korea

Map of North Korea
Image showing map of North Korea along with its supreme leader Kim Jong-un

What happens if Kim Jon-un Dies?

If Kim Jong-un dies, it is really tough to predict who’ll be the successor. Experts and analysts having in-depth knowledge about North Korean politics believe that the most likely successor will be Kim Yo Jong, who is the sister of Kim Jong Un. She has not only accompanied her brother to almost all the important, high-profile meetings, but also she has been reinstated in the politburo (after being removed briefly in 2019). During the 2019 North Korean parliamentary election, she was elected to the Supreme People’s Assembly. Analysts believe that she is currently the second most powerful politician in DPRK. In that sense, Kim Yo Jong is the likely successor to the current Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, if he at all dies.

Here are some facts relevant to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and how he is a controversial figure.

Did Kim Jong-un Suppress Opposition within North Korea?

Kim Jong-un assumed power in December 2011 after his father’s death. As North Korea is a highly secretive state, there is hardly any information available to the global audience.

The available information is either shared by the defectors and detractors of the North Korean regime or the intelligence reports of South Korea and the United States. Based on that available information, let’s check whether Kim suppressed his opposition within his country or even outside after assuming supreme leadership of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).

Based on that information, we know that Kim Jong-un has reportedly removed or executed many detractors (including senior officials) after becoming the Supreme Leader of the country. Here are the top 3 information of opposition suppression by Kim Jong Un after assuming power in late-2011:

  • He reportedly purged his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, one of his top advisers and a vital constituent during his father Kim Jong-il’s rule.

  • Jang Song-thaek was dismissed from his office on December 3, 2013, on the allegation of plotting to overthrow Kim’s government. He was later arrested. A special military tribunal of the Ministry of State Security tried Kim Jong-un’s uncle and executed by firing squad on December 12, 2013. Many of Jang’s family members were also reportedly executed to complete the purging process.

  • Kim’s older half-brother Kim Jong-nam (a vocal critic of Kim Jong-un, who was living in exile for many years) died in Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The reason for death was reportedly found out to be poisoning. South Korean intelligence later said that it was Kim Jong-un who ordered the killing of his brother.

Are the Prison Camps in Kim Jong Un’s North Korea worse than Nazi’s Infamous Auschwitz Camp?

The International Bar Association published a report in December 2017 describing the political prison system in North Korea. After hearing from the prison guards, former prisoners, and others about the prison system in North Korea during 1970-2006, the panel said that the condition in the North Korean prisons was even worse than that in the Nazi camps in Hitler’s Germany.

One of the three jurists of the association was Thomas Buergenthal, who also happened to be a survivor of the infamous Auschwitz camp during Hitler’s Germany. Buergenthal underscored the point that the conditions endured by Kim’s prisoners were unmatched in brutality.

He went on to say: “I believe that the conditions in the [North] Korean prison camps are as terrible, or even worse, than those I saw and experienced in my youth in these Nazi camps and my long professional career in the human rights field.”

The concerned panel concluded that the crimes carried out by Kim’s political prison camps were found guilty of carrying out 10-of-the-11 internationally recognized war crimes that include sexual violence, enslavement, and murder.

Map of North Korea Showing Location of Prison Camps
Map of North Korea showing the location of prison camps

Is North Korea’s Alleged Cyber Warfare as Deadly as Nuclear Threat?

North Korea’s venomous cyberattack capabilities are allegedly controlled through Bureau 121, which was created in 1998. The country also has another cyberwarfare unit called No. 91 Office, which works under the General Bureau of Reconnaissance.

A Reuters report claims that the Bureau 121 office has one of the most talented computer experts in the world, and it entirely runs under the North Korean military. Most of these hackers have graduated from Pyongyang’s University of Automation and also received 5-years of training afterward.

There are reportedly around 1,800 such specialist cyber specialists or hackers working in Bureau 121. The main targets of North Korea’s cyber warfare are South Korea, the United States, and Japan.

Some of the most infamous cyberattacks carried out by North Korea:

South Korea Cyberattack 2013

North Korean hackers carried out their major cyberattack on South Korea on March 20, 2013, which prompted the Korea Communications Commission (watchdog of the South Korean communications) to raise their cyber alert level to 3 (on a scale of 1-to-5).

This cyberwarfare adversely affected three South Korean television stations (Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, Korean Broadcasting System, and YTN) and a bank (Shinhan Bank). All of them suffered from frozen computer terminals, server issues, and others. Other services such as ATMs and mobile payments were also adversely affected by the attack.

Sony Pictures Hacking 2014

A hacker group named “Guardians of Peace” released many confidential documents of Sony Pictures, including its list of employees and their families, their email addresses, information about executives’ salaries, and, most importantly, copies of then-unreleased film produced by the company called “The Interview.”

The film was a comedy on the plot of assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by a journalist. The hacker group also went on to threaten terrorist attacks at the cinema halls that would screen them. Consequently, many significant theatres in the US canceled their shows of “The Interview.” Ultimately, Sony Pictures canceled the mainstream release of the film and instead opted for the downloadable digital version, followed by the release of the film in a limited number of theatres in the next few days. The US intelligence officials later said that the North Korean government-sponsored the cyber attack.

WannaCry Ransomeware Attack 2017

The Donald Trump administration (along with the UK and Australia) said in December 2017 that the powerful WannaCry computer virus originated in North Korean capital Pyongyang and two North Koreans were indicted. This ransomware affected around 230,000 computers across 150 countries world over throughout 2017, starting in May.

This cyberattack siphoned off millions of US dollars in terms of ransom. It encrypted files and computers with a ransom demand of $300-500. Trump’s homeland security adviser, Thomas P. Bossert, called the cyberattack as “a reckless attack and it was meant to cause havoc and destruction.”

Is North Korean Economy in a Dilapidated Situation under Kim Jong-un? Will it lead to the Fall of Kim Dynasty?

North Korea is facing significant food shortages due to the worst harvest in 2018 in the last ten years. This was mainly due to heatwaves, dry spells, and flooding. Food shortages are there for around 10.1 million people in DPRK.

After considering the country’s commercial import capacity, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme missions have concluded that the drastic fall in aggregate food crop production during 2018-19 has led to an uncovered food deficit of 1.36 million metric tons.

The UN Security Council’s sanctions on North Korea in response to nuclear and ballistic missile tests have led to a supply shortage of agricultural inputs such as fuel, fertilizer, and heavy machinery. Quick harvesting and storing crop capability is also hit hard by the lack of fuel in North Korea, mainly due to the UN sanctions. The situation has become so poor in the country that the government has started to provide lesser rations to even the government employees, who enjoy a higher-than-average standard of living than the rest.

Though North Korea is believed to be a closed economy with no or least amount of trade, it had a trade-to-GDP ratio of around 50%, slightly lower than the 60% global average of approximately 60% before the sanctions were imposed. However, after the UN sanctions, North Korea’s trade-GDP ratio has come down drastically to just 15%.

There were always informal and illegal markets in North Korea. They are known as “jangmadang” and are there in DPRK since the 1990s. However, the process of expanding these markets started in 2002, and it gained pace in 2012 after Kim Jong-un assumed power.

After becoming the Supreme Leader of the country, Kim has focused on the development and modernization of North Korean society, especially in terms of the economy. However, the severe drought and UN sanctions have come in the way to deliver greater economic security to his people. With both trade and market economy inside DPRK collapsing, the pillars of sustaining the North Korean economy is fast declining.

However, UN sanctions have led to cropping up of indigenous entrepreneurs inside North Korea, showing the way to prosper the economy as the sanctions choke off the country from the outside world. With tacit support from China, the North Korean economy hasn’t collapsed entirely.

Those who are thinking that the Kim dynasty will collapse due to the economic hardships and continued sanctions should be reminded that the dynasty survived even the “Arduous March” of the 1990s, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is unlikely that Kim Jon Un’s administration will collapse due to the economic downturn of the economy, especially at the backdrop of the country’s harshest drought in 10-years and UN sanctions.

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