Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
(n.b. Kim Jong-il’s last appearance was at a music performance on 17 October)
The field guidance train (“the People’s train, the train of love”) rolled along. Kim Jong-il made three guidance visits this week. Since China Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit, it may seem General-Secretary Kim has emphasized food production, home and cultural life and the environment. But 2009 is a year which should end with North Korean citizens having participated in 250 days of labor mobilization “battle campaigns” and approximately 2/3’s of Kim Jong-il’s guidance tours relate to the North Korean domestic economy and quality of life issues. Some of these visits have occurred at facilities administered or whose products are earmarked to the Korean People’s Army, Navy or Air Force, but the Propaganda and Agitation Department has rather cleverly folded songun chongch’i into the broader ideological narrative concerning the DPRK civilian population (including members of the Military Reserve Training Units).
On that note, General-Secretary Kim’s first guidance visit this week was to the KPA-related Salmon Breeding Institute. The account implies that this was his first visit to the facility (“he noted that the institute stands in a good place and has been well-built as required by the new century”) which must be relatively new. For a KCNA account, there was a surprising lack of detail as to the Salmon Breeding Institute’s actual location in the DPRK and an admittedly cursory check of various publications of North Korean press turned up little. But from the tenor of General-Secretary Kim’s remarks, the institute was tasked with taking the lead on ALL salmon production in the DPRK: “In order to increase the production of salmon it is necessary to find out all places for the ecological environment of salmon for the purpose of building more salmon breeding farms.” So, it seems the Salmon Breeding Institute is being held up as an archetype for all fish farming in the DPRK, particularly “freshwater fish [to] provide people with greater quantities of taste and nutritious salmon.” One might take this guidance visit in conjunction with a visit earlier this month to the Catfish Farm as a sign that fish farming may be one of General-Secretary Kim’s pathway to boost the erratic (and likely depleted) North Korean food supply: “He earnestly called on all sectors and units to continue pushing ahead with the fish breeding in an effort to rapidly boost the production of freshwater fish and provide people with greater quantities of tasty and nutritious salmon in the era of the Workers’ Party.”
A fish-producing cadre or an employee at the newly constituted Ministry of Foodstuffs might only note the first part of this statement “freshwater fish” and view the last part as tacked on to a general policy. Can’t put all the North Korean freshwater fish into one can, I suppose. But the guidance train rolled along into Pyongyang. Or perhaps, General-Secretary Kim decided a day or two later to leave the office and stroll down to Mansudae Street, Pyongyang to visit recently constructed apartment buildings.
Kim Jong-il walked around what appears to be a rather large housing development (albeit not yet populated; get your housing permits ready, Pyongyangites). The KCNA report singles out the Mansudae Street apartments’ construction to “members of the youth shock brigade.” So, perhaps Pyongyang watchers should not compose eulogies on the ineffectiveness of Workers’ Organizations, but then again this is Pyongyang, the center of the revolution. The complex also remains under construction and there are some buildings that will need to be demolished before the complex is complete. He remarked that “All the apartment houses built in the street are the best ones as they were designed well and constructed at a high level.” He then toured one of the new apartments with the Party Secretaries from the Capital City Construction Ministry. While it was not a visit to a cooperative farm tour, General-Secretary Kim did go out onto one of the apartment balconies and afforded himself a bird’s eye view of the apartment complex.
Kim Jong-il formally introduced the KWP’s proposal to build 100,000 new housing units in Pyongyang, presumably to replace older apartments buildings built in the 1970’s and 1980’s: “It is necessary to build in Pyongyang. . .in a matter of a few years as an immediate task.” He then alluded to “Pyongyang Speed,” a mobilization movement to reconstruct post Victorious Fatherland (Korean) War-Pyongyang which was leveled during the war. There was also a reference to General-Secretary Kim’s own propaganda accomplishments of housing construction: “. . .and as the people in the 1970s and 1980s opened up an ‘era of prosperity in Pyongyang’ by building modern streets and great monumental edifices in a matter of 15 years and thus demonstrate once again to the whole world the revolutionary spirit of the servicepersons and people of the DPRK, successors to the great history and tradition.”
Did an account in the North Korean press just use the “S” word? For those on permanent succession watch, one can juxtapose General-Secretary Kim’s indirect use of “successor” with the “youth shock brigade.” It does not actually mean much of anything, but it could create muted ideological conditions for a power transfer somewhere down the line. Although it should be noted that Jang Song-thaek (who was present at this guidance tour) managed the youth construction units on the the building of the Kwangbok Street housing and sports facilities in the late 1980’s. More interestingly from Kim Jong-il’s statement, is what is not included which is to say any reference to the 1990’s or the early 2000’s. So, perhaps the
new Pyongyang Speed will compensate for lost time, and this is also the closest thing General-Secretary Kim will get to a product roll-out.
Kim Jong-il’s final trip for the working week was to two (2) “newly-built” hog farms (which is to say, a pork production facility), built by a KPA construction brigade tout suite: “He highly appreciated the feats of the shining feats of the soldier-builders, expressing great satisfaction over the fact that they successfully built this modern farm in a matter of one year.” One might wonder if this facility qualifies as the product of the 150 Day Battle Campaign, even if construction of the place preceded the campaign’s official start. As with the visits to the salmon farm and the apartment complex, General-Secretary Kim placed the two hog producers as an example for other hog and meat production facilities to emulate. This guidance tour found Kim Jong-il holding forth on environment-related policy. These accounts have references to “greenery” and “greening,” but in this instance he actually speaks to organic fertilizers: “It is very good that the farm is making a great contribution to the grain production by building a modern organic fertilizer composite fertilizer factory…” We can only expect the guidance train to keep-a rolling into next week.
General-Secretary Kim, or whatever Personal Secretariat employee who coordinates these guidance tours, is on top of external reporting on the DPRK both in media and NGO sources. It is well-established that he uses satellite television and web resources to circumvent the official reports he receives. He also used this week’s guidance tours (and possibly tours held earlier this month) to play defense against a UN report about hunger and rights in the DPRK, or at least to create the pretense that he is involved in some attempt to do something. This can also convey to hungry, alienated North Korean citizens that the General-Secretary is taking the lead (which he also demonstrated at last week’s appearance at Migok Cooperative Farm); of course, the bleary-eyed North Koreans can shrug their shoulders and ask where they have heard these assurances before. In terms of ideological themes, General-Secretary Kim is moving away from a typically obdurate martial stance and trying to re-emphasize the figure of a kindly, caring leader, not a General pointing and shouting out impractical orders. One may contrast this with some of the late President Kim Il-sung’s guidance tours (and indeed, General-Secretary Kim’s) where one is presented with vituperative scolds of local cadres and farm official alike.
While there are references and allusions to “the songun era” and “soldier-builders” there is little trace of the North Korean military in these guidance tours. Perhaps with the recent celebration of the official 64th Birthday of the Korean Workers’ Party, October is Party month in the DPRK. But these reports all contain references to the the “the WPK policy” or the “era of the WPK.” One realizes that the “era of Songun” and “era of the WPK” are concurrent, so it is likely that references to the Party are something on which external observers can chew. It can also establish to the North Korean population, or in the least create the illusion, that more basic resources may get to the civilian population and not gobbled up by the military. If one want to see Premier Jiabao’s influence (and this is less likely) then in propaganda the DPRK is turning the volume down on military glorification: fight the resourcing battles at home, and not against fighting other nation-states. Then again, Songun found its emphasis in a national two-day meeting in Pyongyang.
The Ryugyong Hotel received some attention when the KWP blasted fireworks around its perimeter this past Spring. It is well known at this point that the Egyptian conglomerate Orascom has been working on the Ryugyong. Yet this is the first occasion when the Ryugyong Hotel appeared, even subtly, in a guidance tour. It was not the full pyramid, but only the structure’s tip which one can see rising from the tree line in the background of the photos from the apartments tour. The Ryugyong guidance tour is certainly the one many a Pyongyangologist, and a general audience, longs to see. This is most likely the first time since the reincarnation of the Ryugyong’s construction that General-Secretary Kim is seen in any context with the peculiar concrete giant.
And, to chase the will o’ the wisps of cohort analysis, several new players joined General-Secretary Kim in various travel parties this week. Not seen since an early July guidance tour to a land reclamation is Organization and Guidance Department Senior Deputy Director Ri Je-gang, who participated in all three (3) of this week’s guidance tours. Another personality on the July guidance tour, but who makes appearances in the North Korean press is Deputy OGD Director, National Defense Commission member and Second Economic Committee Vice Chair Ju Kyu-chang. Mr. Ju was present only for the tour of the Mansudae apartment complex. The final resurrected cadre in the guidance travel party, previously not seen or explicitly identified since May, was OGD Deputy Director Ri Jae-il, who appeared on the last two (2) tours this week. The guidance tours are never complete these days without Secretary Kim Ki-nam, Financial Planning Director Pak Nam-gi, dos amigos Gens. Ri Myong-su and Hyon Chol-hae and General-Secretary Kim’s confidante and Party deputy Jang Song-thaek.
One is reluctant to read too much significance into the presence of the two Mr. Ri’s of OGD. They were previously identified as rivals to Jang Song-thaek. Then again Mr. Jang’s position as Director of the Central Committee’s Administration Department indicates that General-Secretary Kim decided a while ago to check the enormous (and potentially power threatening) influence of the Organization and Guidance Department. It should be noted with a report given this week (here) that alleged the succession of Kim Jong-un may be temporarily sidelined (along, possibly, with Mr. Jang), that in 2004 Ri Je-gang and Ri Jae-il were said to be avid supporters of the Morningstar General. Ri Je-gang and Ri Jae-il were also said at that time to be alleged rivals to Mr. Jang, and had initiated within OGD the accusations of factionalism (based on a grand wedding reception Mr. Jang and Kim Kyong-hui hosted in 2003) that got Mr. Jang suspended in 2003. Where did Mr. Jang end up after his suspension? The Party end of the Capital City Construction Ministry. But, then again, Jang Song-thaek (unlike the two Mr. Ri’s) has membership on the NDC, is the most powerful conduit for Party personnel to General-Secretary Kim, so the presence of the senior leadership at Organization Guidance on a guidance tour is more a matter of General-Secretary Kim setting and settling policies for his subordinates, under the particular auspices of the 100-Day Campaign. October is Party month, comrades.