Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il emerged from his reclusive life last week for a rare visit to China looking every bit the part of a man nearing 70 recovering from serious illness. Kim, who was widely suspected of suffering a stroke about two years ago, walked with a slight limp, had a thinning head of hair and shed the trademark paunch that once pressed snugly against his jumpsuits. The most telling pictures of his change can be seen in the posed shots he took with Chinese President Hu Jintao, born just 10 months after Kim in 1942, and looking much younger today. Pictures taken in October 2005 when Hu visited Pyongyang and from earlier this month when Kim was in Beijing show how much the North Korean leader has changed.
The world has few chances to see Kim free from the filter of his state’s official media and the trip to China reminded people just how frail the man known at home as the “Dear Leader” is. He is a man of diminished physical stature whose policy blunders have caused the state’s economy to grow smaller since he took over in 1994 when his father died. His pursuit of nuclear arms and a missile arsenal have driven his state further into isolation. While Soviet satellites crashed down to earth with the end of the Cold War, Kim’s North Korea just plodded along as a historical anomaly, planting even more propaganda banners proclaiming the brilliance of its socialist system.
Kim’s trip raised the typical questions about his state’s dependency on China to supply the goods and aid he needs to keep the North’s economy alive. There was speculation over succession and whether Kim brought along his youngest son Jong-un to introduce to Beijing’s leaders as the heir to the throne his family has held for more than 60 years. Analysts wondered if economic pressures ratcheted up by U.N. sanctions imposed after the North’s nuclear test last year would cause Kim to return to international nuclear disarmament talks where he could win much-needed aid for reducing the security threat his state poses to the region.
But the trip also served as reminder that despite his physical problems, his economic woes and his ever increasing global isolation, Kim is still able to vex the world’s most powerful nations.
His weakness can also be his strength.
Reports have said that Kim may travel to China this month for a visit that would be the reclusive leader’s first trip abroad since apparently suffering a stroke in 2008. Kim’s trips to China, his destitute and isolated state’s biggest benefactor and the closest thing it can claim as a major ally, have often led to moves that decrease the security threat Pyongyang poses to the economically vibrant region. This would be Kim’s first trip abroad since falling seriously ill.
(Photographs by Lee Jae-won)
North Korea said on Tuesday it had detained a U.S. citizen who entered its territory, apparently confirming a report that an American activist crossed into the
state to raise awareness about Pyongyang’s human rights abuses. Robert Park, 28, walked over the frozen Tumen river from
China and into the North last Friday, other activists said. The Korean-American told Reuters ahead of the crossing that it was his duty as a
Christian to make the journey and that he was carrying a letter calling on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to step down.
Park had an exclusive interview with Reuters last week before starting on his journey. The following are excerpts from the conversation. He requested that the comments be held until he was in North Korea.
While some people enjoy collecting model trains and building tiny stations along scaled down tracks, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears to have taken this passion to a new level. According to a report in South Korea’s largest daily newspaper, the Chosun Ilbo, Kim has six private trains and 20 stations around the country built just for him.
Kim’s train is armored and also contains conference rooms, an audience chamber and bedrooms. Satellite phone connections and flat screen TVs have been installed so that the North Korean leader can be briefed and issue orders, the paper said quoting intelligence sources.
Once a year, North Korea’s often vitriolic rhetoric machine fires up with special intensity to attack those who attack its human rights record. The exchanges usually come toward the end of the year when the U.N. General Assembly approves what has become an annual measure criticising North Korea for having one of the worst rights records in the world.
Reclusive North Korea is a member of only a few international organisations so the annual rebuke at the United Nations stings particularly hard for the state that bills itself as a workers’ paradise, or as it said in a state media report on Tuesday: “the best socialist state in the world as it is centred on the popular masses”.
One of the primary aims of North Korea’s propaganda machine is to show its founder Kim Il-sung and current leader Kim Jong-il as all-knowing, parent-like (and at times god-like) figures who devote themselves entirely to bettering the lives of every citizen of the state.
Kim Il-sung, known as the “Great Leader” is also the eternal president of the state formed at the start of the Cold War. His son Kim Jong-il, who took over when his father died in 1994, is known as the “Dear Leader.”
Kim Jong-il may be at the forefront of a fashion trend that has just hit the streets of Pyongyang: Using oversized umbrellas as parasols.
The North Korean leader started travelling this year with a soldier whose job is to carry a large black umbrella to protect him from the sun.
from Tales from the Trail:
It turns out that it was North Korea which had suggested that former President Bill Clinton would be the best person to come and negotiate the release of two journalists who had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor in the Stalinist state.
The U.S. government -- particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- had been working for months on trying to free the two journalists. The secretary of state reportedly proposed sending various people to Pyongyang, including Clinton's former vice president Al Gore, to lobby for the women's release.
But North Korea rejected Gore and other possible envoys like Senator John Kerry, Governor Bill Richardson and former ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg. Pyongyang wanted President Clinton and passed that word along through the two detained journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were making occasional phone calls to their families.
"In mid-July during one such phone call, Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee shared what the North Koreans had told them -- that they would be willing to grant them amnesty and release the two Americans if an envoy in the person of President Clinton would agree to come to Pyongyang and seek their release," a senior administration official said.
Photo:A compilation by Reuters of pool photographs and images provided by North Korea’s KCNA news agency showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il from 2004 to 2009. The photograph in the lower right was released this week by KCNA
By Jon Herskovitz
The image the world once had of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, with a trademark paunch, platform shoes and a bouffant hair-do, is gone and may never come back. He has now become a gaunt figure with thinning hair who has trouble walking in normal shoes, let alone ones with heels 8-10 centimetres (3-4 inches) high like he used to wear.
Former U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s attempts to be philosophical about ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’ gave him a reputation for slipperiness and cant. The phrases uttered in 2002 to explain the military’s failure to improve security in Afghanistan have passed into folklore, alongside such gems as ’stuff happens,’ which was his explanation for the looting that followed the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003.
The ‘known unknown’ concept is a more useful tool in journalism than you would think from the derision heaped on Rumsfeld by reporters. As journalists we spend our time uncovering facts, reporting data, breaking news and offering insights into the meaning of events. We rarely stop to contemplate what we do not know, what we cannot know and what impact that ignorance has in shaping perceptions.