Leading article: The barest hint of change

Share
Related Topics

Delegates from all over North Korea will meet in the capital, Pyongyang, tomorrow to elect a new top leadership body. The expectation – and, given the secrecy that prevails, it can be no more than that – is that the special conference will name a successor to the present leader, Kim Jong-il, who is believed to have suffered a stroke several months ago, and pave the way for one of Kim's sons, possibly the third, 27-year old Kim Jong-un, to become heir apparent.

Such conferences are a rarity in North Korea. Comparisons are being made with the congress of 1980 when Kim Jong-il was formally singled out as the successor to his long-serving father, Kim Il-sung. And the true import of this meeting is unlikely to be clear until outside analysts have pored over the small print. There is a chance, though, that North Koreans are living through the last days of the present regime and that major change could be afoot.

Their country has spent the past 30 years bucking every regional and global trend. The moves towards a market economy in China and the then Soviet Union passed it by. So did the fall of the Berlin Wall, the implosion of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Through all these cataclysmic developments, North Korea stuck rigidly to its own self-styled independent way, imprisoned behind the barbed wire it had wound around itself, impervious – or so its leaders intended – to the world outside.

Quite how isolated and repressive it remains is vividly illustrated by the treatment meted out to our correspondent when he took too close an interest, for the authorities' liking, in the abject state of the local food market. Not that North Korea's leaders have been able to insulate their country completely. Its nuclear ambitions have exposed it to outside pressure, eliciting a measure of reluctant and fitful engagement. Food shortages and a botched currency reform weakened the regime and forced it to seek help – in a roundabout way – from outside.

It has to be recognised that transitions in closed one-party states are times of particular risk, and the more tightly sealed and dictatorial the regime, the greater the danger is likely to be. Whatever emerges from the coming conclave, the hope must be that, if and when major change comes to North Korea, it is peaceful. Its people deserve better than the deprivation imposed upon them for so long; and a more open, less paranoid, regime would make the whole region a safer place.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices