Jong-chol’s excellent adventure

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Jong-chol’s excellent adventure

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s second son Jong-chol’s luxurious 10-day sightseeing trip in Singapore was recently captured on television. He reportedly stayed at a five-star hotel with a large entourage, purchased expensive diamonds and watched an Eric Clapton concert from a VIP seat. The extravagant lifestyle of Kim Jong-il’s first son, Jong-nam - hopping back and forth between Shanghai and Macao - is also familiar to North Korea observers.

This royal family’s glitzy lifestyles, however, are in sharp contrast to the impoverished commoners’ agony over food shortages in a so-called “perfect” socialist state, in which a wealth gap between citizens should not be permitted. The Kim family’s idiosyncractic behavior also demonstrates an extremely warped system built on draining the blood of a majority of the people for the happiness of a small privileged class.

Particularly noteworthy is the timing of Kim Jong-chol’s trip, which continued until Feb. 14, two days before his father’s 69th birthday, the biggest holiday in North Korea. Some political pundits say he chose the schedule to demonstrate his willingness to stay away from politics, particularly after his younger brother Jong-un was appointed successor to Kim Jong-il. It looks as if we are witnessing one scene in a historical family drama as Jong-chol reacts to his younger brother’s ascension to power by stepping into the wings.

North Korea has been begging for food around the world so strenuously that it is now easier to find a country or international agency that has not received an aid request from the North than finding one that has. But the nomenklatura in the North does not seem to care at all about their impoverished economy, which constitutes a classic example of dictatorships.

In North Korea, the deified Kim Jong-il has a monopoly on power, and he has been maintaining his power base by importing luxuries like Mercedes-Benzes and doling them out to his faithful followers. He guarantees his aides extravagant lifestyles that even high officials from developed countries can barely aspire to. To achieve the goal, even diplomats are pressured to earn hard currency overseas to fill their Dear Leader’s coffers through illegal activities including smuggling.

North Korea has sought to attract foreign capital but to no avail. Who would invest in a country that habitually squanders a huge amount of hard currency on sustaining a privileged minority’s luxurious lifestyle? We are perplexed at the North’s self-contradictions.
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