North Korea, and the autonomy of violence

jang-song-thaekI am extremely concerned by the events in North Korea, and the recent execution of Jang Song-thaek. I have written before about the brutally appalling and yet comic opera absurdity of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), here, here, here,and here.

It is worth reflecting upon how, once unleashed in any given society, the entry threshold for political violence becomes lower and lower. Continue reading

Kim Jong-un and the purge

After decades of loyal service to the Kim dynasty, “despicable human scum … who was worse than a dog” was probably not the epitaph Chang Song-thaek hoped for. But the very public and very final defenestration of the “traitor for all ages” says a couple of things I think professional Kimologists and the BBC are missing.

The idea the “Great Comrade”, or whatever absurd title he’s using this week, offed his uncle to secure his power is true. But making that kind of observation is a bit like saying Lehman Brothers collapsed because it ran out of money. It doesn’t grasp the underlying dynamics, the shifting factions and patterning of influence cloying for favour and office in Kim the Younger’s new regime. Continue reading

North Korea and the maturity of Japan’s ‘enfant terrible’

Ryu_MurakamiRyu Murakami is apparently ‘the enfant terrible of contemporary Japanese literature’. I suppose I should start this review of his four books translated into English this year by making general comments about the strangeness of Japanese culture. Yet such observations have been made ad nauseum, and only reflect the Westerner’s shock that anything exists outside their sphere of influence.

Nevertheless it is worth mentioning how for Westerners Japan is intrinsically linked with neon-lights, karaoke, samurais and an opaque alphabet, sometimes pejoratively but more often than not with a sense of awe at its sheer otherness, an impression forged somewhere in the mix of Takeshi’s Castle, Hokusai’s erotic prints and the simple beauty of a haiku; a mishmash of the impossibly frantic and the impossibly serene. Any person who can stand out as an ‘enfant terrible’ in this mix is bound to be of interest.

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Korean Nuclear Crisis – time for Labour to call for dialogue to stop nuclear proliferation

With tensions escalating on the Korean peninsula in what is possibly the most serious nuclear crisis since that over the Cuban missiles in 1962, PM David Cameron’s assertion that Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons ‘was necessary’, was not merely opportunistic and hypocritical but utterly dangerous. Whilst other world leaders ­ Ban Ki-moon, the Russian and Chinese governments, as well as leading politicians in South Korea and the US – have all been calling on both sides in the conflict to show restraint, Cameron was in effect inflaming the situation, giving a green light not least to those in South Korea and Japan who would have their countries develop their own nuclear weapons.

The problem for the Labour Party is that one of its Shadow Defence Secretaries, Kevan Jones, echoed this endorsement of the Trident nuclear weapons system, with the only qualification being that of cost, not of nuclear posture. Continue reading

North Korea: Time to Break the Logic Leading to War

Perceptions of the crisis in the Korean peninsula are coloured by the simplistic assumptions that the Pyongyang government is irrational, and the Seoul government is a model of peaceful reasonableness.

Nevertheless, it is clear that currently the leadership of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship, and it is certainly to be hoped that the calls for restraint by the Chinese government will make Pyongyang step back. Chinese President Xi Jinping has also made it clear to South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye that China’s interest is to work more closely with South Korea as well a North Korea to achieve peace, stability and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. Continue reading