The setting is contemporary but the context is old, dating back to the pre-advent of technology. It takes imagination to create a character that is out of touch with the rest of the world in this age when information travels at dizzying speed, everyone is connected, and despotic regimes are crumbling.
If only this were a film or a bad dream. But Kim Jong-un is for real. And he lives not far from us. He is the unpredictable, vitriolic neighbor of South Korea, a country that employs more than 40,000 Filipinos.
Beyond that, this 30-year old (some say 28 or 29 because there is no authoritative source for his birthday) chubby-faced man who adores basketball, is making our part of the world a hot spot, fueled by his fiery words.
Recently, Pyongyang raised the ante and declared that it had entered a "state of war" with South Korea. And, as if taking instructions from a manual, Pyongyang escalated its war scare, step-by-step.
First, it moved a missile to its east coast, according to South Korea’s defense minister, targeting their country, and potentially Japan and Guam. Then, it announced it would re-open a mothballed plutonium reactor. After that, it shut down access of South Korean workers to a joint industrial zone. And then the big bang: Pyongyang declared it had approved a "merciless" nuclear strike on the US.
What’s Kim Jong-un’s playbook?
Some say he simply wants global attention, most especially that of the US. The end goal, according to this school of thought, is to push the US and the West into offering economic assistance. After all, despite the ambitious nuclear program of North Korea, the UN has reported malnutrition and starvation in parts of the hermit country.
What Kim Jong-un told Dennis Rodman lends weight to this theory. "He wants Obama to do one thing: Call him," basketball star Rodman told ABC News in the US after returning from an unprecedented visit to North Korea. "He said, 'If you can, Dennis – I don't want [to] do war. I don’t want to do war.' He said that to me."
Another theory is that Kim Jong-un’s bluster is meant for his domestic audience. Because he is still young and inexperienced, he needs to prove himself, especially to the old guards, to “consolidate the loyalties of top military commanders,” says the South China Morning Post. He is also at the stage of “seeking political stability” as he “reshuffles his inner circle.”
He appears to be insecure but covers this up with his menacing words.
Ties to China
In an ideal world, one would think that Pyongyang wouldn't have any friends. Who would want to support a war monger who puts primacy on its military arsenal at the expense of food?
But it does: China is its main ally.
There’s an indication, though, that there may be some discussion going on in the Chinese Communist Party about ties with North Korea. An editor of a Party journal who urged China to abandon North Korea in an opinion piece he wrote for the Financial Times was suspended. He described the alliance as "outdated" and cited the possibility that Pyongyang may use its nuclear weapons to blackmail China.
It is unclear if the author reflects the thinking of some in the Party but the foreign ministry disapproved the public airing of his views.
We need this horror story to end. It is in the best interest of everyone to chill out. For one, China can use its influence to calm down the combative Kim Jong-un.
The US, however, should pave the way for a dialogue. State Secretary John Kerry’s diplomatic skills will be put to a test here. During her tenure, Hillary Clinton talked a lot about “strategic patience,” a lodestar in her diplomacy. It helped her deal with trouble spots and recalcitrant leaders.
Some pundits are skeptical and argue that, in the case of North Korea, “strategic patience” will not work. I take a different view. Like others, I will go for opening talks with this country and slowly move towards denuclearization. War shouldn’t be an option. - Rappler.com