End-game approaching for the 'Hermit Kingdom'

VULTURES have started to circle over the North Korean government in Pyongyang. As with Fidel Castro in Cuba, no one can tell how much longer the isolated Communist regime, built up by Kim Il Sung over five decades, will remain standing. But with the country's economy in ruins, an end-game is approaching.

Diplomats are sceptical that leaflets found scattered in Pyongyang's diplomatic compound two weeks ago calling for the overthrow of the government were, in fact, the work of a dissident group. And, unlike the relatively peaceful fall of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, it is far from clear that the hardline Communist cadres in North Korea will give up their absolute power without a - potentially bloody - fight.

But as South Korea's President, Kim Young Sam, said this month, 'The Korean people cannot live divided for ever . . . the competition between the South and the North over which can create a better society is over.' And last week, as his government started to wake up to the possibility of North Korea collapsing sooner rather than later, President Kim warned his people 'to be well prepared to cope with any eventuality'.

The future of North Korea's secretive leadership has been uncertain since the Great Leader, Kim Il Sung, died on 8 July. Despite extensive state propaganda over the past decade promoting his son, Kim Jong Il, as natural successor to his father, no official announcement has been made appointing Kim Jong Il to a top post. Some have speculated that the leadership is split between those urging economic reform and an opening to the outside world, and hard liners who see any opening as the beginning of the end, just as happened in Eastern Europe.

Since the funeral of his father, Kim Jong Il has not appeared in public. Ten days ago the official radio said the 'revolution could be destroyed (if) the problem of a successor' were not solved successfully - immediately suggesting that a power struggle was going on. But there are no signs of unrest in the streets of Pyongyang, and North Korea-watchers admit that the inner workings of the country's leadership are almost entirely unknown.

The origin of the seditious leaflets, saying 'Down with Kim Jong Il', is still a mystery. The dip lomatic compound is off-limits to ordinary North Koreans. One alternative theory suggests the leaflets may have been planted by South Korean agents in an attempt to stir up trouble as the North Korean regime struggles with the succession of Kim Il Sung.

Another theory is that the leaflets were the work of the 'dirty- tricks brigade' of North Korean intelligence, seeking to increase the uncertainty over who is in control in Pyongyang in order to keep stalling any definitive nuclear agreement with the US. North Korea and the US reached partial agreement in Geneva two weeks ago on a formula for ending the nuclear showdown between the two countries, but many issues still remain open. As the two sides adjourned the talks, which will resume on 23 September, US officials said their North Korean counterparts did not have 'approval' from 'their capital' to make a concrete deal.

But with no confirmation that the leaflets were distributed anywhere else in the capital, all sides agree that a genuine dissident movement is unlikely to begin its campaign for national revolt in foreign nations' embassies. Whoever the perpetrator, the motive seemed to be to ensure news of the leaflets reached the outside world. Little else of substance has emerged from the 'Hermit Kingdom', which is why the vultures can only circle patiently, watching from a distance.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?