NEW YORK – South Korea is concerned that the North Korean government is slipping into chaos.
“Kim Jung-un’s selection (as heir apparent to President Kim Jung-il) is a sign of weakness,” explained a well-informed South Korean official whose identity was withheld for security reasons.
Earlier this month, the reclusive North Korean government held a major celebration in the capital, Pyongyang, to officially stamp the younger Kim’s claim to his father’s throne.
The massive celebration, with its countless performers and fireworks, was to the South Koreans public window dressing to cover a desperate regime:
“The celebration was an indication just how bad things really are,” the South Korean explained. “He (the son) knows nothing, he has no experience, he knows nothing about how to run a government.”
The inexperience of Kim Jung-un and the fact that his father waited until his own health was in rapid decline to make the succession move is an indication of just how uncertain the future is, he said.
“If he (Kim Jung-il) were to die in the near future, a military coup is possible,” he suggested.
The source explained that the younger Kim is a new commodity to the senior brass within the North Korean military and as such does not yet command the respect and loyalty that his father does.
While that issue might be resolved over time, the South Korean believes such time may not be on Pyongyang’s side.
“Who knows when Kim (Jung Il) dies? It could be tomorrow, nobody knows,” he said.
An early death of Kim Jung-il could release a series of events that the South Koreans believe Washington does not fully appreciate.
There could be a massive exodus of refugees both into China in the north and into South Korea in the south.
“The people in the North are starving and will do anything to leave if the government slips into chaos,” he confided. “They know things are better outside North Korea.”
Also, in the event of a collapse in the senior leadership, the South Korean official believes a military coup is a real possibility.
“A coup is really possible, especially if Kim Jung-il dies before Kim Jung-un has a chance to learn his role,” he stressed.
Such a coup could bring forth a pre-emptive strike against the South, the source added.
“It is possible, that is why we are stressing the warnings now,” he said.
Those warnings include Seoul’s concern that Pyongyang might consider the use of its crude arsenal of nuclear weapons in such a predicament.
“They have those nuclear weapons and could use them to protect the government.”
The South Korean is concerned that the Obama administration does not fully comprehend just how tenuous the situation on the peninsula really is.
He said, “The (North Korean) leadership is really hostile, it is an enemy to its own people.”
He believes that the Obama administration has sent Pyongyang mixed signals which resulted in the push and shove relationship for the last two years.
It began when the new White House rejected a Pyongyang effort to send a “diplomatic delegation” to the Obama inauguration in January 2009.
“To North Korea, it was an insult,” he explained,
Since that rebuff, the North Korean position on a host of subjects subsequently hardened.
It also included the elevation of former North Korean U.N. ambassador Pak Gil Yon to senior position inside the foreign ministry.
Pak, who resided in New York City for more then a decade, served twice as U.N. ambassador and has spent more time stateside than any other North Korean.
Yet, Pak is considered hardliner and not one who espouses closer U.S. ties.
During Pak’s first U.N. assignment, the Clinton White House became convinced that U.S. messages routed through him to Pyongyang became so distorted that the State Department turned to the Chinese embassy in D.C. as its main conduit.
Eventually, Pak returned home to rise to a senior position inside the North Korean foreign ministry.
Just last month, the annual U.N. General Assembly brought delegations from both Washington and Pyongyang to New York, but they did not meet.
“Time may be running out,” the South Korean source warned.