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[Editorial] Libya and North Korea

By all accounts, 99 percent of the North Korean people are not aware of what happened in Libya last week, let alone the violent pro-democracy movements in other Middle East and North African nations since last spring. The other 1 percent are the top-level party and administration officials and businesspeople who travel to China and other parts of the world. Agencies monitoring the North’s print and broadcast media reported that they have been completely silent about the death of Moammar Gadhafi and the proclamation of liberation.

Needless to say, Pyongyang’s silence about the fall of the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt and the bloody death of Gadhafi reveals Kim Jong-il’s awareness of the vulnerability of his regime in the process of a third-generation dynastic succession of power. Despite their boasting of the perfect loyalty of the 23 million people to the party and the leader, the ruling elite are afraid of what effect the information on the fates of the overseas dictatorships will have on the oppressed people of the country.

Whether it reflects the impact of the ongoing “jasmine revolution” in the Arab world, North Korea has taken conspicuously moderate gestures toward South Korea these past weeks. Its official media, including the party organ Rodong Sinmun, have repeatedly asked Seoul to shift to a more flexible stance toward Pyongyang from the hard-line position the present administration has maintained since its inception. For months, they neither directly mentioned the name of President Lee Myung-bak nor used foul language in reference to him.

A commentary wondered what the true policy of South Korea is between the “flexibility” hinted by new Unification Minister Ryu Woo-ik and “principled approach” Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik mentioned in his recent National Assembly testimony. Pyongyang’s ultimate purpose behind this new campaign of flexibility, as far as we understand, is to have the South open its wallet and warehouses to resume humanitarian and economic aid to the North.

Kim Jong-il should know how precarious his situation is since the global league of dictators has continued to shrink more speedily this year. Violent demonstrations are raging in the two Middle East nations and it is a matter of time before the North Korean people reach the limit of their endurance of hunger and repression and rise up against Kim’s rule. Flexibility is what the North needs for its survival.