x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

What now for North Korea?

Pyongyang's ubiquitous propaganda apparatus has announced, with unconvincing zeal, a groundswell of public affection for the deceased's third son Kim Jong Un

The world now knows with certainty that Kim Jong Il, North Korea's "Dear Leader" since he replaced his father in 1993, is dead.

What we don't know is what the transition at the top of North Korea's menacing and totalitarian government will mean for the country's 24.5 million hungry people, for its nervous regional neighbours, or for the whole world.

Pyongyang's ubiquitous propaganda apparatus has announced, with unconvincing zeal, a groundswell of public affection for the deceased's third son Kim Jong Un. He has until now been little-known, even by North Korean standards, inside or outside the country he will now dominate.

He takes over a tyrannical regime which has been consistently unable or unwilling to feed its people, but which has built nuclear weapons and recklessly exported nuclear technology. It also maintains a formidable conventional army, with thousands of artillery pieces within range of the South Korean capital, Seoul.

South Korea responded to the news of Kim Jong Il's death by placing its own forces on alert, and South Korean stocks and the currency dropped, signalling anxiety about what the change will bring.

For now there is just no telling. A regime so relentlessly callous about its own people will hardly be swayed by diplomacy; international talks on North Korea's nuclear arsenal have dragged on pointlessly for years.

For all the cult of personality, any dictator needs a whole supporting apparatus of military and civilian officials. What ideas for change these people will offer the new ruler, and how he will respond, will be watched with great anxiety.