North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, has many times been the subject of fascination. A subject which had fascinated tonight's speaker, Ms. Jean H. Lee. Tonight, Ms. Lee helped us explore the Hermit Kingdom state-wise and policy-wise. The study of North Korea’s state and policy could not be discussed without exploring the Kim Family. Understanding the role of the Kim family, and in particular the current generation of Kim Jong Un, provided a context for the events currently being reported in the Western world. Across three generations, the dynasty has formed the core government, using history and culture to build the cult of personality.
First was Kim Il Sung, who was the first leader of North Korea in which he ruled from the country's establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994. He rose to power after the end of the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula and the end of World War II. In 1950, he was authorised by the Soviet Union to invade South Korea, triggering an intervention in defence of South Korea by the United Nations led by the United States. Kim Il Sung and his army was ultimately forced to retreat, and this resulted in a ceasefire, which is still ongoing. Under his rule, North Korea was established as a communist state with a publicly owned and planned economy. It had close political and economic relations with the Soviet Union. By the 1960s, North Korea briefly enjoyed a standard of living higher than the South, which was fraught with political instability and economic crises. The situation however reversed in the 1970s, as a newly stable South Korea became an economic powerhouse fuelled by Japanese and American investment, military aid and internal economic development while North Korea stagnated and then declined in the 1980s. Differences emerged between North Korea and the Soviet Union, chief among them being Kim Il-sung's philosophy of Juche, which focused on Korean nationalism, self-reliance, and socialism. Despite this, the country received funds, subsidies and aid from the USSR (and the Eastern Bloc) until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The resulting loss of economic aid adversely affected the North's economy, causing widespread famine in 1994. During this period, North Korea also remained critical of the United States defence force's presence in the region, which it considered imperialism, having seized the American ship USS Pueblo in 1968, which was part of an infiltration and subversion campaign to reunify the peninsula under North Korea's rule.
Then came Kim Jong Il, who served as the second leader and ruled from the death of his father until his own death in 2011. By the early 1980s, Kim had become the heir apparent for the leadership of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and assumed important posts in the party and army organs. He first served as the country's minster of propaganda and agitation, which fuelled one of his future devouring passion: film. His rule was the first dynastic succession in a communist country. During his rule, the country suffered famine and had a poor human rights record. Kim involved his country in state terrorism and strengthened the role of the military by his Songun ("military-first") politics. Kim's rule also saw tentative economic reforms, including the opening of the Kaesong Industrial Park in 2003. In April 2009, North Korea's constitution was amended to refer to him and his successors as the "supreme leader of the DPRK". The most common colloquial title given to Kim was "Dear Leader" to distinguish him from his father Kim Il-sung, the "Great Leader". Following Kim's failure to appear at important public events in 2008, foreign observers assumed that Kim had either fallen seriously ill or died. On 19 December 2011, the North Korean government announced that he had died two days earlier, whereupon his third son, Kim Jong-un, was promoted to a senior position in the ruling WPK and succeeded him.
Finally came Kim Jong Un, who now serves as the third leader of North Korea since 2012. From late 2010, he was viewed as heir apparent to the leadership of the DPRK, and following the death of his father, North Korean state television announced him as the "Great Successor". Under his rule, the regime has implemented a more brutal, oppressive and totalitarian rule than under his grandfather and father before him. On 12 December 2013, Kim ordered the execution of his uncle Jang Song-thaek for "treachery". Kim is widely believed to have ordered the assassination of his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, in Malaysia in February 2017. On 12 June 2018, Kim and US President Donald Trump met for a summit in Singapore, the first-ever talks held between a North Korean leader and a sitting US President, to discuss the North Korean nuclear program. A follow-up meeting in Hanoi in February 2019 ended abruptly without an agreement. By 30 June 2019, Kim met with both South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump at the Korean Demilitarised Zone. Now he faces economic and political pressures. Outside North Korea, he is engaged in direct diplomatic manoeuvring with Trump. According to Ms. Lee, Kim Jong Un is willing to make transactional actions rather than transformative actions in regards to regime and its relationship with both South Korea and the United States.
Ms. Lee is a graduate of Columbia University and its Graduate School of Journalism, with a Bachelor’s degree in East Asian and English Literature and a Master’s degree. After graduation, she worked as a reporter for the Korea Herald in Seoul, South Korea. She then moved to Associated Press, where she worked in Maryland, California, New York, and London. In 2008, she started in Seoul, South Korea as Bureau Chief. In 2011, she became the first American journalist to gain extensive access on the ground in North Korea, covering the passing of Kim Jong Il in that year. In 2012, she opened the AP’s bureau in Pyongyang. During her tenure, she had travelled to numerous farms, factories, schools, military academies and homes. Moreover, she has appeared frequently on the BBC, CNN and other broadcasters. In addition, she contributes to the New York Times and Esquire. Furthermore, she has taught courses in North Korean Studies at both Yonsei University’s Underwood International College and Korea University’s Graduate School of International Studies, both in Seoul. After leaving the AP, she is currently serving as Director of the Hyundai Motor Korea Foundation Centre for Korea History and Public Policy at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars.
Also, see the previous seminar here.
Also, see the previous seminar here.