[Viewpoint] A blood-bound fraternityThe tension heightened as the bulletproof train with Kim Jong-il and the offi cials accompanying him crossed the border between North Korea and China. International vigilance was elevated, as no one knew for sure what kind of scheme North Korea was devising. After all, Pyongyang is known in the international community for its insensitivity and recklessness, evidenced by its conducting nuclear experiments and launching missiles despite tight international pressure.
The train stopped at Dalian, a port city that filled with skyscrapers after it was exposed to the open economy. It was hard to predict what Kim and the Chinese leaders were doing from the moves of the chairman of the North Korean National Defense Commission, who had suffered a stroke and walked lame.
The media in Northeast Asia brainstormed various possibilities, such as the six-party talks, denuclearization and the Cheonan incident, but the bulletproof train moved on to Beijing Station, leaving behind all kinds of speculation and the frustrated concern of the Korean government.
To me, the purpose of Kim’s visit to China was to entrust the future of himself and his nation to its communist brother, China.
In the Joseon Dynasty (1392- 1910), the indigent depended on the rich landlords in the aristocratic class. In 1815, the 15th year in the reign of King Sunjo, a mother and two daughters who became beggars after the father passed decided to become slaves by entrusting themselves to an aristocratic family. They stamped their palms on the contract, which read, “I am giving myself, my 7-year-old daughter Yunjeom, 2-year-old Jesim and the children I will have to you forever, so if any conflict arises, please report me to the authorities.” When Chinese President Hu Jintao took the hand Kim Jong-il extended, it symbolized a similar rapport.
Kim was not entrusting himself to China because he’s desperate right now. It was a move that looks forward 10 years. The 68-year-old dictator lives with a time bomb called a stroke, and even if he manages to live to 80, he won’t be able to guarantee North Korea’s survival. Maybe he was afraid of the worst-case scenario that could face Pyongyang in a decade.
The scenarios could be grim: Chang Seong-taek, the administrative chief of the North Korean Workers’ Party, takes power behind the veil while 30-year-old Kim Jong-un becomes the successor. The military and the diplomats engage in a fierce power struggle. The aging supporters of Kim Jong-il fail to block the armed protest of the emerging military power, and Chang conspires with the new military leaders to oust Kim Jong-un. Food shortages leave the people starving to death, and defectors increase rapidly. An apocalypse comes to a country armed with nuclear weapons and missiles.
It might sound like a novel, maybe “North Korea in 2020,” but Kim cannot sleep soundly at night with such a nightmare scenario in mind. If it happens, North Korea would be recorded as the country with the shortest history in the world. So Kim had to bring himself to big brother.
While the official agenda on the table was “economic development” and “strategic communication in domestic and foreign affairs,” what the leaders of the two countries confirmed was their blood-bound secret fraternity. Kim’s desperate appeal, “The flow of time and generational changes cannot dilute brotherly love,” implied that the two countries had a historic responsibility to hand down the friendship for generations.
On his way back to Pyongyang, Kim packed the documents confirming the provision of food, necessities and energy offered by his comrades. He must have been pleased. “Strategic communication in domestic and foreign affairs” turned the nightmare into a comfortable dream. What more does he want after confirming that Beijing will do all it can to help the starving brother when it is faced with collapse?
Kim Jong-un’s ousting can now be omitted from the scenario, and any power struggle will be smoothly suppressed if China gets involved. It would be even better if the Chinese military were temporarily stationed in North Korea to help recover order, though it would certainly make the international community concerned and unification with South Korea would become a more distant possibility. Kim Jong-il can now sleep peacefully.
Coming from a different lineage, Seoul cannot understand the secret code shared by Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao and Kim Jong-il, the heirs of the revolutionary generation born in 1942. Nevertheless, I am concerned by a contract that states, “I am giving myself, my daughters and the children I will have to you forever.” Kim Jong-il might have vowed to “give myself, my family and North Korea forever.” The Global Times, a sister newspaper of the People’s Daily, offered Korea a warning. “China is a grand nation. It does not take sides recklessly in the affairs of neighboring countries.”
*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University.
By Song Ho-keun