December 19, 2011
The death of longtime North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and promotion of his untested son Kim Jong Un as his successor is fueling uncertainty about the secretive and impoverished state. Our reporter looks at how North Korea's leadership transition may unfold and how that process may affect Pyongyang's domestic reforms and relations with regional powers.
Kim Jong Un may be North Korea's next leader, but his influence within the North Korean leadership is not clear.
His late father Kim Jong Il appointed him to several top posts, including four-star general, only last year.
North Korean analyst Benjamin Habib of Australia's LaTrobe University says Kim Jong Un did not have much time to earn the trust of power brokers in the military and the ruling Korean Workers' Party.
"Does he have enough support among key figures so that this succession will run smoothly? If we recall, Kim Jong Il had 20 years' apprenticeship to solidify his patronage networks prior to his assumption of the throne in 1994," said Habib. "So there is a big question mark over how smoothly his succession is going to run."
Two prominent figures whose support would boost Kim Jong Un are his father's sister Kim Kong-Hui and her powerful husband, Jang Song-Thaek.
Jang expanded his influence as a key adviser to Kim Jong Il after the elder Kim suffered an apparent stroke in 2008.
Some experts say the older relatives of Kim Jong Un may see him as too young and inexperienced to take the seat of power, at least initially.
"An alternative might be that Kim Jong Un becomes a figurehead leader for a military dictatorship, something like collective military leadership that you would see in Myanmar [Burma], or it could be that Kim Jong Un is discarded completely in favor of a military dictatorship," said Habib.
John Swensen-Wright is a Korean politics expert at Chatham House in London. He believes the North Korean military is unlikely to stage a coup against the younger Kim for the time being.
"I think we are going to see an attempt to consolidate power and to provide reassurance to the North Korean people and most importantly to introduce and legitimize Kim Jong Un in the minds and hearts of ordinary North Koreans. That will take time," said Swensen-Wright.
As North Korea's transition process unfolds, another uncertainty is the fate of tentative economic reforms in the isolated communist state.
In recent years, young North Korean policy makers of Kim Jong Un's generation have boosted foreign investment from China. They also have opened their country to limited mobile phone and Internet services.
Habib says a key question facing North Korea's next leadership is whether to further open up an economy that has struggled to feed its people since the 1990s.
"If yes, that means that the international community has an opportunity to deal with this new government," he said. "If no, and we know that the system is inherently unstable, then that opens the door to possible state failure and systemic collapse."
North Korea's neighbors have long feared that chaos in that nation could send millions of North Koreans flooding across their borders. Tens of thousands of North Koreans already have crossed into China in recent years in search of food.
LaTrobe University analyst Habib says the risk of North Korea becoming a failed state will make regional powers more determined to resume six-party talks with Pyongyang as a way of managing any crisis.
North Korea withdrew from the talks in 2009. They were aimed at persuading Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in return for diplomatic and economic incentives.
Some experts say North Korea's sudden power transition also raises the risk that Pyongyang may take military action against its neighbors in a bid to rally North Koreans around their new leaders.
North Korean forces shelled a South Korean border island last year, an action Pyongyang credited to Kim Jong Un.
But Swensen-Wright of Chatham House says he expects North Korea to pursue a more pragmatic approach to regional relations.
"It is not a country that I think is prone to intentionally provoke or intentionally seek to destabilize the region. It wants to pursue its national interests, whether that is enhancing its security, or improving access to economic resources, or strengthening its diplomatic ties with its neighbors," he said.
Regional politics could become even more complicated next year, when South Korea holds a presidential election and goes through its own leadership transition.
unfold (v) 展開，顯露
successor (n) 後繼者，繼任者
動詞 succeed 常用的語意是「成功」，但另一個意思是本文的「繼承」，名詞是succession，某人的繼承者是successor，常搭配介係詞 to使用，如 “the successor to Kim Jong Un"
late (a) 已故的
impoverished (a) 窮困的，赤貧的
broker (n) 掮客，代理人
patronage (n) (政治)酬庸
金正日(Kim Jong Il)死亡的消息，讓還未受過試驗 (untested)的金正恩 (Kim Jong Un)成為繼承人(successor)，提高了這隱密而貧窮的國家的不穩定性 (uncertainty)。分析北韓的專家 Benjamin Habib認為，今正恩必須在短時間內贏得軍方和執政的北韓勞動黨 (Korean Workers’ Party) 的權力掮客 (power brokers)的信任。他說到，金正日在他繼位之前 (prior to his assumption of the throne)，有二十年的實習時間 (apprenticeship)來鞏固他的政治酬庸體系 (to solidify his patronage networks)。
figurehead (n) 有名無實的首腦，名義上的領袖
dictatorship (n) 獨裁國家，獨裁政府
動詞 dictate 有「聽寫」和「命令」兩個主要的意思，獨裁者是「發號司令的人」，拼法是dictator，而這樣的體制就是 dictatorship
coup (n) 政變
這個字要特別注意發音！字尾的p沒有發音；文中片語 to stage a coup (against) 是常用的搭配語，stage當成了動詞用，有「籌畫、發動」之意
consolidate (v) 鞏固，加強
legitimize (v) 使...合法，宣佈為合法
Benjamin Habib說到，目前有一個可能發展的版本 (an alternative)是金正恩將會成為軍政府 (military dictatorship)虛位的領導 (a figurehead)，讓北韓成為如緬甸(Burma)一樣的共同軍事領導體制 (collective military leadership)；另外的可能則是金正恩會被完全屏除在軍政府之外 (discarded completely)。另一位政治分析家 (politics expert) John Swensen-Wright則認為，北韓軍方在現階段 (for the time being)不太可能發動政變 (unlikely to stage a coup)，反而會更加鞏固權力 (an attempt to consolidate power)，讓民眾安心 (provide reassurance)，更重要的是要在北韓普羅大眾心中開啟和樹立金正恩權力的正當性 (to introduce and legitimize Kim Jong un in the minds and hearts of ordinary North Kodreans)。
tentative (a) 試驗性的，嘗試性的
reform (n) 改革，改良
inherently (adv) 固有地
dismantle (v) 拆卸，拆開
incentive (n) 刺激，鼓勵
在北韓權力轉交展開 (unfold)之際，這孤立的共產黨國家 (the isolated communist state)上試驗性的經濟改革前景 (the fate of tentative economic reforms)也增加了不確定性。北韓面臨的國家危機 (becoming a failed state)讓區域內的大國更堅定地要平壤重返六方談判桌 (to resume six-party talks)，以面對任何可能爆發的危機。北韓在2009年退出談話 (withdrew from the talks)，當時各國的目標是要說服北韓停止核武計畫，以換取在外交與經濟上的好處 (in return for diplomatic and economic incentives)。
rally (v) (重新)集合，重整
shell (v) 砲轟，射擊
pragmatic (a) 務實的; 實用主義的
prone (a) 有...傾向的，易於...的
用法上後面加不定詞，即 be prone to V
有些專家認為，突然的權力轉移會升高北韓對鄰國採取軍事行動 (take military action against its neighbors) 的風險，是以新領導人當成中心來重整和凝聚北韓人民的企圖 (in a bid to rally North Koreans around their new leaders)。Swensen-Wright 預測北韓會對區域關係繼續較務實的作法 (pursue a more pragmatic approach to regional relations)，他認為北韓為了追求國家利益 (national interests)，不至於蓄意挑釁 (not . . .prone to intentionally provoke)，或是刻意破壞區域穩定 (seek to destabilize the region)，可能的是加強國防 (enhancing its security)，更開放經濟資源 (improving access to economic resources)，還有強化與鄰國的外交關係 (diplomatic ties)。