North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may be seen as having been successful in consolidating his control over the isolated regime since he took power in December 2011 following the sudden death of his father Kim Jong-il.
Pyongyang’s state media this week described last year’s execution of Jang Song-thaek, the young ruler’s uncle and mentor, as his major political accomplishment. Kim was also lauded for having made the North relish the heyday of its military over the past three years through a “revolutionary shift” in combat training and readiness.
What Pyongyang’s propaganda machine has referred to as Kim’s achievements, however, has further isolated the recalcitrant regime from the international community.
The absence of a delegation from China in Wednesday’s ceremony to mark the third anniversary of the death of Kim’s father reflected the strained ties between the two countries. Pyongyang did not extend an invitation to Beijing, its last remaining major ally, in an apparent expression of its discontent with China’s deepening partnership with South Korea.
In its plenary session Thursday, the U.N. General Assembly is set to pass a milestone resolution on North Korea’s dire human rights record, which calls for the referral of the issue to the International Criminal Court. The Security Council is unlikely to endorse the resolution as China and Russia are expected to veto it. But the mounting international pressure is putting the oppressive regime on edge, as shown by its hysterical response.
Speculation has arisen that the North may launch peace overtures toward the South next year to use the improvement of inter-Korean relations as a way out of its international isolation.
Seoul has also recently sent conciliatory signals. It allowed an opposition lawmaker to visit the North on Tuesday to deliver a wreath commemorating the deceased North Korean leader on behalf of the widow of the late liberal South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. A senior Seoul official also suggested earlier this month that the South might offer incentives to the North in return for the reunions of separated families.
It has yet to be seen what steps Kim will take, with some experts here expecting him to repeat a pattern of matching peace overtures with measured provocative acts. What Seoul needs now is a set of sophisticated strategies to induce him to change course in close coordination with all neighboring powers.