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Video: Andrei Lankov on Prospects of the Hereditary Succession in North Korea

August 26, 2013

Always entertaining while providing his insightful analysis, Professor Andrei Lankov spoke on “Prospects of the Hereditary Succession in North Korea” at week three of NKnet’s speaker series in Seoul. The lecture runs about 80 minutes and then he answers several questions at the end. The talk took place April 25, 2012, but Professor Lankov’s analysis of North Korea remains very relevant today. A list of contents is available immediately below the embedded video. You may also read a summary of the talk and view photos.

Video Timeline

1:45 serious doubts about describing North Korea as a communist country

2:28 the regime is rational, generally predictable, not very Stalinist, they know what they’re doing – the best Machiavellians today

3:06 strategic goals of the leaders – no longer unification or economic development, but to die natural deaths in their own beds (not in exile) at an old age; they’ll probably succeed

4:07 in 1980s Moscow policy analysts believed after Kim Il Sung died, North Korea would collapse

6:03 Kim Jong Il had a rational policy, Kim Jong Un will likely follow that, at least during his first years in charge

7:48 Kim Jong Un still surrounded by those in their 60s-70s, so he’s probably not in complete control yet

10:15 4 basic points of Kim Jong Il’s survival / North Korea policy

10:30 Rule 1 – No reforms (ie, Chinese-style, market economy)

– the existence of South Korea means any attempt at reforms would be highly unstable, because it would encourage North Koreans to compare themselves to South Koreans

14:13 per capita income gap between the two countries is 1:15 – 1:40

22:40 Rule 2 – Keep nukes (protects against outside & inside enemies)

27:15 without reform, North Korea can’t produce enough food to feed its population, but with nukes (or offers to slow down their development) it can blackmail China, Japan, South Korea, and the US to give it food

31:29 Rule 3 – kill dissenters – zero tolerance for any political dissent

– but now the penalties for, eg, border-crossing are much less than 10-20 years ago and
family members are not imprisoned as often as before
– but penalties are still harsh, and the ratio of political prisoners is still similar to Stalin’s USSR
– still cannot create any groups, associations not run by the government

37:42 even though no reform, the country has changed a great deal from under Kim Il Sung (total
distribution economy) to Kim Jong Il (market economy – most people make most of their living outside the state economy)

41:45 fencing match for power between government and market forces, eg, 2009 currency reform, ban on women younger than 50 trading

46:16 information is getting in; unlike tunable radios, DVD players are legal – many have seen South Korean dramas; propaganda now doesn’t say South Korea is poor

52:32 Rule 4 – control, but not over-control, the markets (a tricky balancing act)

56:07 in the long run, the situation is not sustainable and collapse is likely to be violent

– even if they can improve the economy, the improvement will be too slow
– a generation gap

59:28 many South Koreans don’t want reunification

1:01:54 everyone who is somebody in North Korea believes regime collapse would be personally bad for them and their families

1:04:20 scenarios: a spark like in Tunisia, a military coup

1:09:26 we simply don’t know when collapse will happen; from the outside we can see the system is rotten, but we don’t know how rotten, so there will be few warning signs

1:12:30 attempts at reforms may give us some warning time

1:16:57 two possible final outcomes: a pro-Chinese satellite regime or reunification (through absorption) with South Korea; neither is great, but both better than now


1:20:13 Q: Is the lack of civic education the reason for no collapse? Or, is North Korean culture anti-revolutionary?

1:22:57 Q: Has news of North Korean refugees having difficulty adjusting in South Korea made it back to North Korea?

1:27:39 Q: How effective is flooding North Korea with information about the outside world?

1:34:50 Q: How would South Korea be impacted in the case of collapse or unification?

1:38:41 Q: Would South Korea and the United States be safe to enter North Korea without having to worry about China?

1:46:06 Q: Will China stop repatriating refugees?

Photos from this event:

Event Summary

Facebook photo album: North Korean Human Rights Speaker Series

Media coverage of this event:

Lankov on Reform in North Korea
NK News
May 4, 2012

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110-044 4F, Shinguan (New Building), Pilun Building, 214 Pilun-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea