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Same old Pyongyang

North Korea returns to form by threatening its inoffensive southern neighbour.

Reading the tea leaves on North Korea has launched academic careers and formed the basis of entire political science departments. The combination of hyper-paranoid secrecy and near-total international isolation has made the so-called Hermit Kingdom more inscrutable than any country in the world.

Or so goes the conventional wisdom. As information leaks out of North Korea following the death of Kim Jong-il, who will be buried with full state honours today, a picture is emerging of Kim family elders and senior generals consolidating power. Hmmm. A dictatorship where power is monopolised by the military and one autocratic family? That does not sound so unusual after all.

Another familiar refrain coming out of Pyongyang is the belligerent propaganda. North Korea has warned of "unpredictable catastrophic consequences" for South Korea apparently because its southern neighbour hasn't shown enough remorse over Kim Jong-il's demise. The two countries are technically still at war, and the North regularly thunders about "reducing Seoul to a sea of ashes" and the like.

For South Korea, these are not empty threats: North Korea has launched fatal attacks against its civilians without provocation, such as the bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island last year. There will be academic speculation about the consequences of the Kim succession, but for South Korea this is an all-too-familiar reality.

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