Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

The emperor’s new clothes: North Korea keeps on marching

Sometimes, you just want to give them a hug.

Pyongyang put on this earnest show of transparency around its rocket launch, inviting foreign journalists into the heart of their futuristic Space Control Centres (SCCs).

Witness the marvels of our microcomputers and our, umm, extraordinarily large antennae!

It was one part quaint, one part chilling. The display was clearly designed to flummox Western voices that North Korea has something to hide, and, if lucky, to also alert the world as to the advanced state of North Korean spacefaring, and the military implications of that.

The problem with Pyongyang’s approach is that what they put on display was utter rubbish.

Watch this BBC video – seriously.

At 0:48, foreign journalists are shown the satellite itself – a locally-designed and constructed device to be launched as a spaceborne weather station. Look at it. Look at it. I am not exactly an engineer, but can we all agree that this is a 100W guitar amp with a tin can screwed to the top? Is one of those foil baubles meant to be a camera? Or some means of adjusting its trajectory? Somehow?

It really does appear to be something a precocious seven-year old might duct tape together in his dad’s workshop, and take to Show and Tell as his real, genu-wine, state-of-the-art weather satellite. So absorbed in his own delusions of imagined grandeur, he could not detect any of the snickers coming from around the class.

At 1:02, we are introduced to North Korea’s apparent Space Control Centre. You’d be forgiven for believing it instead to be the set from a community theatre’s stage production of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cue big projection screen showing the rocket, awaiting its command! Cue about twelve scientist-folk looking studiously at Google Earth on their enormous computers!

I’m being ultra-glib. But they’ve earned glibness, haven’t they, and moreover, perhaps they will appreciate a candid critique of their offering? Room for improvement and all that?

The assumption among the North Korean hosts must have been that the visiting journalists (and the Western audiences they feed) are actually somehow quite comparable to their equivalents in North Korea itself – woefully undereducated and easily gobsmacked by technology that looks suspiciously like Robotix.

Perhaps their version of MI7 have gotten lazy, with the success of their internally-directed propaganda depending principally on the religiosity of its people, and not the sophistication of their messages. Perhaps it’s a fortunate irony that North Korea’s propagandists are themselves the product of the same propagandist educational system as the people they now propagandise – a feedback loop of loopiness that renders their narrative almost incomprehensible to foreign ears.

All of this serves to reinforce the Wizard of Oz aspect to Pyongyang’s military prowess. The bluster almost certainly magnifies actual capacity several-fold, and someone atop the KPA will have to know that the failures yesterday have exposed their bravado as somewhat unwarranted.

Unfortunately, they’ll seek to correct that – this embarrassment may shock North Korea into reasserting itself with a more tangible display of power. Whatever the delusion in Pyongyang that it can convince the world that it’s a military space-power, the real power they can wield is closer to Earth – firefights along the disputed maritime boundary would rattle markets, shake China’s image in Washington as a robust regional power, and create conditions for big powers to come back for more talks on more aid.

The emperor may have no clothes, but I suspect he knows it and does not mind it. Because there’s no telling what an angry, naked emperor might do next.

Filed under: International, Korea, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jong-un’s long road

With less than a month before the anticipated Korean Workers’ Party Conference in September, North Korea Leadership Watch has posted an insightful piece about what the conference may mean in the context of leadership succession.

Party Conference a Coronation?

The post draws from a Korea Herald interview with Sejong Institute analyst Cheong Seong-chang, who goes a long way in identifying who’s providing tutelage to heir-somewhat-apparent Kim Jong-un:

Jong-un’s uncle Jang Song-thaek tutors him on the country’s finances and relations with China while Kim Young-choon is in charge of the military. Jang and Kim Young-choon are two of the four vice chairmen of the National Defense Commission, the country’s de facto supreme guiding organ.

Jong-un consults O Kuk-ryol, another NDC vice chairman, on operations against South Korea, Joo Kyu-chang on the North’s defense industry, Woo Dong-cheuk on international counter-espionage operations, Joo Sang-song on public security, Cho Myong-rok and Kim Jong-gak on military politics, and Lee Yong-moo on the private sector. All of them are members of the NDC, “elected” to their posts in April 2009.

It goes some distance to reinforce the supremacy of the National Defence Commission that it has produced so many of Jong-un’s regents and advisors, and/or incorporated these mentors into its own fold within the last couple of years. Jang Song-thaek, Jong-un’s uncle and principal advisor and mentor, is the most powerful of these NDC officials – Cheong notes that:

“Jang manages the finances of the NDC, the Cabinet and the security organs controlled by the NDC such as the secret police, the military intelligence unit, the prosecution and the court. He is also known to be responsible for North Korea’s relations with China.”

As to what is expected to be decided at the Party Conference itself, I suppose it’s the wrong way to look at it. The Party Conference will approve, rather than decide, questions of succession, which have presumably been decided by the NDC by now.

So a presentation of Kim Jong-un as the real heir apparent could be made, though Jong-il has been cited as wanting the Conference to be a “quiet affair,” which could well suit the NDC and the KWP interests as well – especially considering that we haven’t seen much evidence of any revolutionary narrative yet being built around Jong-un (where does he fit in Kim Family mythology, what are his “supernatural” qualities?). As such, there may only be inference to Jong-un’s future through some formalisation of new positions that point to a pretty incredible career trajectory. And, as Michaëlle Jean once said after tasting raw seal heart in Canada’s Arctic, “Take from that what you will.”

Blindly hoping that we’ll be some the wiser in September.

Filed under: Korea, Politics, , , , , , ,

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