Bonnie Glaser
Oil Price
May 24, 2010

  • A d v e r t i s e m e n t
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Despite the posturing of his regime, there are signs that Kim Jong-Il’s hold on North Korea may be slipping and international community must be ready.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is considered an international pariah in most nations, but he was welcomed with open arms in China May 3-7. The visit underscored North Korea’s isolation: Kim’s last foreign visit in 2006 was also to China. Despite approving tough United Nations sanctions after Pyongyang’s second nuclear test, Beijing continues to provide energy and food assistance to the North that remains indispensible for the regime’s survival. Yet, even with China’s help, there are growing signs of economic and political volatility in the DPRK and the risks of instability—including regime collapse — cannot be ruled out.

In late 2009, the North’s leadership revalued the nation’s currency, causing severe inflation and popular unrest. The regime then barred foreign currency and closed markets, eliminating vital sources of food and other necessities. Kim suffered a stroke in 2008, but it remains to be seen whether plans to transfer power to his youngest and least experienced son can be carried out smoothly. It cannot be excluded that the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan is an outcome of internal succession politics — a move by a faction seeking to gain power, or even by the leadership itself, seeking to maintain a grip on the military during the transition.

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