To many foreign observers, North Korea is an odd place. With the succession of odd, little dictators, its dependence on China for aid and its determination to celebrate both its victories and its failures it always seems like one big Political House of Cards where one gust of reality will knock it down. Its attempt and subsequent failure to launch a rocket this week was still celebrated as a great triumph in the capital Pyongyang.
Now this is partly because of the propaganda inbuilt into North Korean society where the glorification of its two former leaders, father and son Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il is more important than feeding its people but also because it plays into its ‘us versus the capitalist’ rhetoric.
It has been studied apprhensively by the Western media to see how the third ruler of the ‘world’s only communist monarchy’ is coping since his father’s death in December and speculated over whether he can maintain the facade of progress while his country slides further and further away from the prosperity of the rest of the world.
The theatrics of the past week suggest that these hypotheses were premature as the Korean propaganda machine rumbles on. With a failed rocket launch and the unveiling of two gigantic statues of the two previous Kims in Pyongyang the ruling class and the masses that appear to follow them celebrated their actions as a massive success.
The earth seemed to spin doubly fast in 2011 and the rate of news seemed to be so rapid and unrelenting we even missed silly season and such delights as Yvonne the runaway cow and the moose that got in a drink driving snafu because of the real important news that would not stop happening. 2011 also saw the birth of this blog. With all these new and exciting things happening it is easy to get a headrush so I have taken it upon myself and this blog to condense the news of 2011 to around six-eight key news stories from each region that I believe have been the most definitive of the year in a series of blog posts over the next few days.
Asia in 2011
China: The leader of the region, China supposedly became committed to the ‘soft power’ economic model in the early part of the last decade to take over the world with their cheap manufacturing and seemingly inexhaustible manpower. With the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, the Chinese authorities even temporarily loosened up some of their restrictions on many internet sites and it started to seem like China might be finally, fully welcomed back into the boson of international relations if albeit in an totilatarian sort of way. However, ever since the beginning of the Arab Spring in late December, early January China has feared its own ‘Jasmine Revolution’ leading to its crackdown on noted dissidents for such heinous crimes such as ‘tax evasion’ and ‘fraud’. Their most noted victim, artist Ai WeiWei emerged from captivity after 3 months detention back in June as the result of an international campaign for his release. However, many unknown dissidents may have faced a worse fate because they did not have the international community to come to their rescue. Recently another dissident, Ni Yulan was alleged crippled under torture and is today standing trial.
Japan: To use a technical term, Japan has had a clusterfuck of a year. First there was an earthquake, then there was a tsunami, then there was the nuclear panic over Fukushima. Safe to say, that this year everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Japanese. After a disaster movie style year the task has been reconstruction and recovery since the earthquake in March that killed over 15,000 people. With political fighting and a seemingly insurmountable level of mess and misery to clear up, the Japanese have so far handed this crisis with an extraordinary level of dignity and courage. Time will tell, however, if it gets back to it’s for ‘tiger economy’ glory.
Thailand: The general election in July supposedly ushered in a new political chapter as the military formally gave up power to an elected government since their coup d’etat against populist leader, Thaksin Shinawatra in 2005. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra won a resounding victory for the countries Red Shirts, populist supporters of greater democracy but in the spirit of reconciliation she choose to rule in coalition with the Yellow Shirts, pro-monarchists. Despite the King’s, who still has an enormous influence over Thai politics, failing health the country political system seems to be in rudimentary health. However, since the election there have been a series of devastating floods across Thailand that have killed over 600 people and declared by the World Bank as the fourth costliest disaster in human history.
Burma: After Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest in late 2010, she has begun to tour throughout Burma during 2011 as she becomes part of the domestic political structure once more. As part of a continued relaxation of Burmese rule, in October thousands of political prisoners were released at Aung San’s request. Additionally, according to the Bangkok Post, there is renewed business interest in Burma as a new centre of development. However, the slight reduction on mainstream censorship has not been met with a new toleration for the rebellious ethnic minority Karen people on the border with Thailand who are campaigning for greater political autonomy.
India: After the year Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh has had many in his position would give up. A year of corruption scandals was kicked off by the minister supposedly investigating corruption during the Commonwealth Games in 2010 was arrested on corruption charges himself. After another series of scandals, popular social activist, Anna Hazare declared a public fast in April until an anti-corruption bill was passed. This promoted a massive internet campaign that soon spread to the streets in a movement that BBC called ‘India’s Arab Spring’. It got through the lower house this month but the upper house was adjourned today rather than casting its vote.
Pakistan: In an example of religious extremism that showed just how fanatic elements of Pakistani society have become, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was gunned down by his bodyguard in January for supporting a repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Instead of being reviled for the murder of a public figure, Malik Mumtaz Qadri was hero-worshipped by some and had rose petals thrown over as he went into for his preliminary hearing. Religious clerics also called for a boycott of Taseer’s funeral because of his campaign for a mercy plea for Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death. On the other hand, there were protests on the streets of the Punjab region where he was popular against his death. In August Taseer’s son Shahbaz Taseer was kidnapped by an unidentified gunman. He was last reported to be near the Pak-Afghan border in October but his exact whereabouts are still unknown.
North Korea: After suffering from failing health, disguised from his people, for a number of years, ‘Dear Leader’ and ‘Amazing Politian’ Kim Jong Il finally gave up the ghost and made way for the ascension of his untested youngest son, Kim Jong Un. With the two-day official mourning at an end for the man who claims to have invented a food that sounds suspiciously like a hamburger the country makes way for a ‘glorious future’ under there new ‘Glorious Leader’. Ahem.
…As the newly late Christopher Hitchens said of the ascension of the also newly late Kim Jong-Il to his father’s premiership in 1994.*
It seems oddly fitting that they died within days of each other.
The death of the most famous modern example of ‘short man complex’, Kim Jong Il, this Saturday instigates another merry-go round of mourning as North Korea prepares for the arrival of more of the same in the shape of his son, Kim Jong Un in much the same way as his father took over power from his grandfather.
What is it about one person that can inspire such rapturous devotion? Especially in a country like North Korea: regarded as the world’s most dangerous ‘rogue state’ where the capital city, Pyongyang, only has light at night if there are foreign journalists in town and the people regularly starved as the elites indulge their taste for cigars and cognac. Continue reading ‘The Kim is Dead…Long Live the Kim’…