In the second part of the “SinoNK Han-sol Interview Debate,” SinoNK Coordinator Roger Cavazos presents his alternative interpretation of the Kim Han-sol interview, providing readers with a decidedly more positive, “there is meaning in the words” interview interpretation. – Steven Denney, Assistant Editor
The Kim Han-Sol Interview: Connecting the Dots
by Roger Cavazos
Kim Han-sol’s video interview created quite the stir. As Chris Green wrote in Asia Sentinel,
It is intriguing, and it is also certainly enough to earn the young man the label “reformist element” and/or “new diplomatic channel to Pyongyang” in certain quarters. However, such talk is misguided; this was clearly not a political message sent from Pyongyang.
However, as Chris Green has noted in the past about possibly planted “rumors” supposedly swirling around markets, when it comes to data coming out of or pertaining to North Korea, often we just don’t know – and so cannot discount – that Pyongyang or others are using this as a strategic communication to reach out to the rest of the world. Given that we all suffer from an equal dearth of facts as to why Kim Han-sol released the video in the first place, we must ask the following questions: Why now? And at whose behest? Taking a Western hermeneutic approach yields some interesting insights. A Great Leader (suryong) hermeneutic approach yields two likely outcomes, one of which is fatal for Kim Han-sol. By a hermeneutic approach, I mean swilling liters of soju, eating cold noodles, and listening to the Korean harp whilst watching the video and then developing theories to mostly fit message content and modality.
Nasty Weed: Plucked Root (Suryeong Hermeneutic) | Given a Great Leader approach, KJU follows tried and true Kim Family traditions and ensures any competitor for the job is exiled and/or bribed. Kim Pyong-Il (Kim Jong-il’s brother) has been in permanent exile in Warsaw. Kim Jong-nam didn’t get a cushy Ambassadorship but does seem to have a rather comfortable, if dissolute, existence in Macau. Kim Han-Sol also doesn’t have an Ambassadorship at the ripe age of 19, but does want to show that he can be an effective front man for the regime while not crossing his “Dictator” Uncle.
On the brink of unbelievable, but squarely within the realm of plausibility, is a Kim Pyong-Il/Kim Jong-Nam compact to win back the metaphorical throne as though North Korea were a Habsburg empire.
If that is the case, or if Kim Han-sol has already crossed the line by referring to his Uncle as a dictator, then Great Leader rules almost certainly call for ruthless plucking, not bribing. The next time Han-sol travels to North Korea, we will know fairly quickly if he has been “plucked,” “bribed,” “ignored,” or introduced to Pyongyang’s oubliette collection for some “vacation style treatment.”
Old Message: New Face | The young man is holding himself out as a new communications channel. As soon as he speaks in American-accented English with occasional hints of primary (Korean), tertiary (Chinese) and possibly other languages, he is announcing: I can deliver messages directly. Ears bedizened with bespoke earrings as though meant to emphasize he’ll hear the messages that are given to him and deliver them unvarnished via his own polyglot mouth – as close a direct message as one can get. Yet, he’ll make his own judgments. Some extremely mature things coming from such a young man.
He wears glasses, but they seem to be cosmetic, since there’s no diffraction as light passes through them. Maybe they’re meant to increase the gravitas of the wunderkind. However, by his own admission, he’s never met his “Dictator” Uncle, and it’s unclear to whom he would pass messages. Likely by design, he has been insulated from the inner workings of the Party Apparatus, but now’s a good time to start. So what will North Korea say?
They will almost certainly spout the old North Korean line, but it’ll be so much better received because a fine young gentleman who looks, sounds, and thinks like a reformer.
Hot Flame: Burnt Moth | Kim Han-sol’s role may be the brightest flame around. Reformist moths, foreign and domestic, will immediately move toward him, offer advice, tell him all their plans for reforming North Korea. The moths will have given themselves away and spare North Korea the trouble of having to actively search for the moths.
If reform is to happen in North Korea, they will want to keep close tabs on how it happens: scale, speed, etc. So as the moths flock to the flame, North Korea will be alerted to those who haven’t received the word or who are applying it incorrectly.
China’s economic reform has had amazing economic successes in raising nearly a billion people out of poverty. But it is not a Korean-grown reform whereas chaebols (large conglomerate groups) are a Korean-specific economic reform with a proven track record of propelling half the peninsula into the first world.
Concluding Remarks: The Manchurian Candidate? | Kim’s responses mark him as neither too close nor too far from any of the Six Parties. He is actually furthest away from North Korea mainstream making him an ideal compromise candidate if at some point in the future North Korea collapses. His roommate, a Libyan, exposed and perhaps whetted Han-sol’s desire to be a revolutionary hero. To swoop in when Korea is in tatters and become the benevolent leader.
There is also a possibility that he is setting himself up to be a high-level government official in a ROK-dominated Unified Peninsula. As a whole, his performance keeps the vast majority of his options open–except he has almost certainly made enemies with the very powerful Korean Peoples Army (KPA). There were no sops at all to Songun (Military First Policy). The KPA will likely uncharitably interpret anything less than full support of Songun as an existential threat.
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