December 29, 2004


Talk Swirling of North Korean Regime Collapse: Since Kim ordered his portraits removed from buildings in the capital, activists flooded the Net with unsubstantiated rumors of instability. (Barbara Demick, December 29, 2004, LA Times)

"We are seeing a lot of fabricated tales going around lately," said Woo Jung Chang, an editor of the Chosun Monthly, an influential Seoul-based magazine.

"There is a lot of wishful thinking when it comes to predictions of North Korea's collapse," agreed Nicholas Eberstadt, a North Korea expert with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington.

The subject of North Korea's stability is most sensitive in South Korea, where polls show that people are less fearful of a communist invasion than they are of a messy collapse that could send streams of hungry refugees across the border.

The South Korean government is so touchy about the issue that it recently threatened to prosecute an opposition assemblyman who publicly discussed the contingency plan for a North Korean collapse.

The strategy, which dates to the 1960s but has been revised, calls for the establishment of an interim civilian government to fill the vacuum that would be left by the collapse of the Pyongyang government and for emergency refugee shelters to be set up near the demilitarized zone separating the two nations.

"This is a realistic scenario and something we need to plan for and refine in detail…. Instead, we're not even allowed to talk about it," said the assemblyman, Chung Moon Hun.

At least officially, the South Korean government insists that such plans are unnecessary.

"It seems there's almost no possibility North Korea will collapse," President Roh Moo-hyun said in a sharply worded statement this month.

Like his Nobel laureate predecessor, Kim Dae Jung, Roh has pursued a number of projects designed to bolster the North Korean economy. This month, the two Koreas held a ceremony to celebrate the start of production at an industrial park in Kaesong, just north of the DMZ.

But Roh's stance is drawing fire from conservatives who accuse him of propping up a morally and economically bankrupt regime.

Michael Horowitz, a former Reagan administration official who has been one of the most articulate U.S. advocates of toppling Kim, shocked the South Korean media during a recent visit here when he accused Roh of "making love to a corpse."

As Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have both demonstrated, talk of the collapse produces it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 29, 2004 4:00 PM
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