December 29th, 2011
04:21 PM GMT
Share this on:

Hong Kong (CNN) – The official mourning period for Kim Jong Il is over and the world's eyes - and in many cases fears - are now focused on Kim Jong Un.

We still don't know with any certainly how old he is, let alone whether he is capable of running a country.

At first, he will have plenty of help from his father's trusted circle of advisers. But analysts say one of the reasons he was chosen over his two brothers to succeed Kim Jong Il is that he most closely resembles his grand-father, Kim Il Sung, founder of the Communist north. If that is the case, it is unlikely to be long before he begins to flex his muscles, political or otherwise.

Kim Jong Un (above center, in a handout picture from North Korea's Korean Central News Agency) faces a clear - and intriguing - choice.

Does he follow the path of his father and grandfather and keep his country in isolation and his people cowed? This would mean he would remain beholden to China for his very survival while being shunned by most of the rest of the world.

Or does he look at his very own neighborhood and learn from two of the most economically successful models in the world: South Korea and China?

When Kim Il Sung founded Communist North Korea in 1948, the country had a bigger industrial base than the South and many more riches in the ground.

Over the ensuing 63 years Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il ran the country into the ground.

The economy has shriveled, as both South Korea and China have blossomed. From a rocky and authoritarian beginning, South Korea embraced the free markets with its own style of capitalism - significantly, heavy state support for key industries - and has become a democratic Asian tiger with an industrial-based economy.

According to the CIA’s The World Factbook, South Korea’s economy is likely to have topped $1 trillion last year.

I use the CIA’s figures because they have also estimated the size of the North Korean economy - there are no official North Korean statistics - at about $28 billion. That makes South Korea's economy nearly 36 times bigger.

The contrast with China is even more extraordinary. In a little more than 30 years China has moved from near economic irrelevance to economic superpower. Money talks, and these days when China talks the world takes note.

Even that other international pariah nation, Myanmar, has shifted its policy. Enough, at least, for the U.S. president Barack Obama to send his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to see what's going on.

Kim Jong Un has reportedly been educated in Switzerland. He will have seen the sweeping changes in the global economy and the global order. He will be aware of the role that economics play in staying in power. He need look no further than China, where the Communist Party maintains its legitimacy by providing prosperity.

It won't happen overnight. Perhaps not even in years. North Korea watchers say he is unlikely to change his father's military-first policy anytime soon, despite its crushing impact on the people of North Korea. But if he does look beyond the immediate, he will see a North Korean model of rule that is unsustainable and an economy in decay.

Call it enlightened self-interest but it may be that the younger Kim will have to turn his attention to economics 101, purely for the sake of his own self-preservation.

soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. 2cents

    I was wondering why you use a photo-shopped image? Clearly the photo does not meet the standards of journalistic ethics and distorts reality.

    December 30, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  2. thislittlepiggywentweeweewee

    Let's see when Kim makes his first trip to Beijing. That will indicate how bad conditions truly are in his country.

    December 30, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  3. webex

    The Swiss education would have an impact on Jong Un. He had experienced the prosperity, beauty and bountiful environment of Switzerland. I am hopeful that he will gradually open up the country.

    That does not mean giving up his security preparations. China, India, Pakistan, Isreal etc. all have nuclear arms and yet the world is not alarmed. The N. Korean situation can be discussed over many years to reach a better solution.

    One of the first thing that I hope for is the release of thousangs from their gulags.

    December 30, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  4. parksunghyun

    December 30, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  5. Frank

    The little Fat Panda is living in the past, and the death camps will continue.

    December 30, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  6. ChinaSaul

    We've got something Kim Jong Un desperately wants: The NBA. This is a no-brainer! Start diplomacy with a simple gesture'by sending Michael Jordan to Pyongyang with a few former/current NBA stars as an ice-breaker to give some civilian 'guidance' on basketball which is known to be the new leader's passion, and that of many of his countrymen. The US has a history of such type of diplomacy with other seemingly immovable adversaries:

    December 30, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  7. Yong

    December 30, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  8. Guanxi

    Ahn-yong-ha-say-o. Charyot! Kim Jong Un ke. Kyong ye. Baro. Kam-sap-ham-ni-da.

    December 30, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  9. Tutuvabene

    Make Michael Jordan ambassador to N. Korea and the problem is solved.

    December 30, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  10. Andy

    His cheeks weigh more than the average North Korean.

    December 30, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
  11. H. B.

    It is claimed here that the above picture was photo-shopped. How can a person unfamiliar with photo-shop programs learn for himself how to detect such an "amended" photo?

    Though I want to be optimistic about this guy, he lived with the miasma of absolute rule uber alles much longer than the time he spent in Switzerland. That experience might have even turned him off to democracy and prosperity for his people, because in Switzerland, people are free to speak out. It's hard to believe he'd be capable of appreciating that, even though such liberties for the people can often soften their griping. It kinda depends on whether he's enamored with being "he who would be king." With what amounts to virtual "absolute power," don't we know what such power DOES to people? And he's already got it.

    Maybe he might mull over the fact that if he freed his population from its bondage and helped to encourage economic improvements, he could be hailed as a national hero. But I'm not holding my breath. Absolute power is simply too alluring and addictive for most men to resist, and this guy does not have the kind of appearance that implies character of the type which can be strong on its own hook. He looks profoundly well-fed in a nation of starving people.

    But he MIGHT prove to be a good leader, if he had the inner strength to turn his country around. His "advisers," however, have great power and influence over him – maybe enough to force him to choose the status quo, "or else." THEY aren't likely to appreciate any opening up of anything. We can only make guesses about what he'll do, but I think the odds of a better and wiser N. Korea are rather remote. Hope I'm wrong.

    December 30, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  12. Saul

    It doesn't matter he studied in Switzerland,... Assad had a post-grad education in London and he is an MD.. No one can actually tell if what is going on in Syria is his work or he is the prisoner of the cronies....same will apply to Kim the 3rd....

    December 31, 2011 at 12:44 am |
  13. Mr. "Know It Al"l who doesn't know everything~

    As I was watching the funeral of the "Dear Leader", I got so emotional that I had to stand up, and bow toward the TV which had his large photo on it. I stayed in the "bowed" position so long that now I can barely straighten up.

    Do you think that I would have a good chance to collect some easy money by suing North Korea?

    December 31, 2011 at 1:58 am |

    Let's hope his lesson in democracy, while he was in Switzerland, has prepared him to "lighten up" on his subjects. His first step should be to open up North Korea for free enterprise, along the same lines as in China, and seek free trade with the entire world. His second step should be to connect the international railways to South Korea, Russia and China, and open up his country to international travel and tourism. A relaxed visa procedure, such as in Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines and others should be implemented. China and South Korea would be happy to help him run a high-speed rail route from Beijing to Seoul VIA Pyongyang. The concentration camps should be emptied out at the rate of 20% weekly for five weeks. These are just some initial steps. A primary objective should be to get his people eating again. Tourists and international travel would quickly bring money to his country. If he just asks, China will be glad to help him "be like them!"

    December 31, 2011 at 6:34 am |
  15. muscle

    The new leader has enough food stored in his cheek pouches to see him through the next decade.

    December 31, 2011 at 7:30 am |
  16. kimhyeonchel

    December 31, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  17. kimhyeonchel

    December 31, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  18. Lilly

    If they do switch to a more modern economy you can make a bet it will be on the Chinese model and almost completely controlled by Beijing. If N. Korea has as many natural resources as stated then we know who has their eyes on it and will take control of it. China's investment as their only friend will pay off in spades for them. Don't expect the west to take part in any of this, other than as customers. China will take over in time.

    December 31, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  19. alan seago

    Wolves do not give birth to rabbits. Why do Westerners think the North Korean system will give birth to a reformer?

    December 31, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  20. Andy

    Do they execute all those weighing more than Un? Maybe they just hide them when the cameras are around? Where are they?

    December 31, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  21. richard bonilla

    wow...looks like some happy people there in the photo.....ha, ha, ha ...

    December 31, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  22. Hugh

    There's not much chance that this bloated fool will change things. North Korea is a family business and he has access to a mind-blowing array of luxuries, as did his father. Why would he give these up?

    January 1, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  23. WesBeebe

    It is crucial to bear in mind that the cultural history of Korea has never been democratic in any sense. For the most part South Korea was very much, as a previous poster stated, a case of a wolf giving birth to a rabbit. Exceedingly rare. One fully expects for the North Korean economic situation to continue to worsen until the point is reached at which isolation and a million-person strong military is insufficient to maintain the status-quo.

    With China's support, this situation will continue for a long period, though. The Chinese see North Korea as a sort of "buffer-zone" between themselves and the radical changes occurring in much of the rest of modern-day Asia: therefore it is likely that China will continue to attempt to moderate the North Koreans rhetoric and outbound hostilities for as long as serves their political and economic purposes to do so. It is worth noting, also, that Asia as a whole, has no significant history with even the idea of democratic or republican socio-political formats. We, as "Westerners" are as alien to much of Asia as someone from another planet might be to us.

    Bear that in mind when considering the current situation in North Korea. Asian cultures generally have a history of not only hero-worship for their past and present leaders, but also a very real history of legitimized ancestor worship. The North Koreans are not going to think like any culture in the West, and to insist that they are foolish, or idiotic for following down a road they have been traveling since before paper was invented, is to deny history.

    Just my two cents.

    January 1, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  24. Oldeye

    Well said. You have done your homework.
    As much as we like to see a progressive, democratic and united Korea, we also have to
    understand their unique position in East Asia.As you have noted, the lopsided economic
    disparity is the main concern here. I predict an internal collapse in North Korea which can
    cause China to send their troops in to stabilize and take over. The secondary possibility is
    that South Korea will embrace the North in a politically engineered merger. Very remote,
    the two scenarios. Happy New Year!

    January 2, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  25. Da Man

    I predict North and South Korea will merge over the next twenty years, and that the resulting economy will be a highly dysfuncitonal and angry one like Texas. China will eventually purchase the Korea's at a discount, and use the peninsula as a staging warehouse for Wal-Mart. Thirty years from now all US troops in Korea will be home and working as Wal-Mart cashiers. Democracy, and more importantly Capitalism, will triumph.

    January 6, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  26. Pharmb251

    Hello! fcfacbk interesting fcfacbk site! I'm really like it! Very, very fcfacbk good!

    March 21, 2012 at 6:41 am |
  27. Lowes Home Security

    Awesome blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A design like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog stand out. Please let me know where you got your design. Many thanks

    April 1, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  28. plus de facebook fan

    Great work! That is the type of info that are meant to be shared across the internet. Disgrace on Google for not positioning this publish higher! Come on over and seek advice from my website . Thanks =)

    April 15, 2012 at 10:49 am |

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About Business 360

CNN International's business anchors and correspondents get to grips with the issues affecting world business, and they want your questions and feedback.

Powered by VIP