Kim Jong-il is dead

Kim Jong-il, erratic playboy and hereditary divine monarch of North Korea, is dead. The successor to the throne is his third son Kim Jong-un, an unknown quantity not yet thirty.
Everybody in the region is very nervous – leave cancelled sort of nervous. The predictable collapse of this cruel despotism has been brought forward, though nobody can guess by how much.

As the resident RBC expert on Korea (qualifications: one ten-day holiday visiting my son Jonathan teaching there) I should have thoughts on the crisis but I´ll pass. North Korea has taken to heart the ¨mad negotiator¨ theory and the unpredictability of its policy is a feature not a bug. One of the payoffs is to keep the diplomatic and public focus on the succession of staged immediate crises and not on the long term. Korean experts don´t know what´s going to happen next, and I am certainly not going to guess.

So I´ll content myself with repeating my sound unsolicited advice of a year ago to South Korea and its friends: start planning urgently for the aftermath of the inevitable reunification. Many of the problems that are bound to crop up are qualitatively independent of the path there, whether this is violent or peaceful – though their scale may not be. They can and should be discussed openly, drawing on a lot of precedents elsewhere, starting but not ending with German reunification. How soon for instance can North Koreans be granted freedom of movement wihout creating a tidal wave of refugees to South Korean cities?

Open thread on the temporarily divided Korea.

Update: Matt Yglesias posts a great satellite image of East Asia at night. North Korean children can at least see the stars.


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