Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk
You have to credit the North Koreans with chutzpah ― the Yiddish word for “nerve,” brazen arrogance or insolence, all in untranslatable exclamation.
The leaders of the world’s 20 strongest, most powerful nations were gathered in a solemn conclave in China, and in Pyongyang North Korea’s Supreme Leader did more than thumb his nose at them by ordering still more missile tests.
What timing! What a way for Kim Jong-Un to spit out unprintable obscenities, to give the finger to all those movers and shakers whom he either hates or distrusts or both!
It would be difficult to say whom he reviles more, the American President Barack Obama as a dangerous hypocrite, the Chinese President Xi Jinping, also as a hypocrite, or South Korea’s President Park Geun-Hye, not only as a dangerous hypocrite but also a “puppet “of both the Americans and the Chinese.
Credit Kim with getting away with this stuff in masterful style. What can these potentates really do when they’re pretty much constantly at each other’s throats?
If President Obama wasn’t exactly making enemies, you can be pretty sure he was engaging in a lot of double-talk as he assured President Xi, honestly, those THAAD missiles aren’t aimed at you at all. How could you think such a thing, Obama might have asked, when everyone knows the only reason for Terminal High Altitude Area defense is to shoot down North Korean missiles zooming 100 miles overhead.
Nor was President Park exactly confronting President Xi or Russia’s President Vladimir Putin with assertions about the South’s desperate need to be able to fire at will on those high-flying missiles. She’s playing a smarter game. We surely won’t need them, she was saying, if North Korea stops posing such a severe threat; if Kim Jong-Un no longer talks about annihilating us. Just crack down on your North Korean buddies, get them to give up their nuclear program, and we might never need THAAD at all!
With such banter going on in the delightful setting of Hangzhou, the charming and prosperous city not far from Shanghai, Kim was the weird kid who didn’t get invited to the party ― or maybe the oddball student who wasn’t accepted into the right fraternity. He knows he has nothing to worry about, though, as long as the Americans and Chinese and South Koreans, also the Russians and the Japanese, are preternaturally suspicious if not hostile toward one another despite the wink-wink smiles and photo-ops.
Kim’s confidence is borne of one certainty. The Chinese will keep right on pouring stuff into his economy regardless of those odious sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council, of which China is a permanent member.
That’s partly because China higher-ups honestly can’t do much about a lot of the trade, which goes on under the radar, greased by bribes to North Korean and Chinese officials on either side of the river borders, the Yalu or Amnok on the west, the Tumen on the east. Moreover, while the Chinese may be able to block egregious items like spare parts or ostentatious luxury goods for Kim, his family members and closest cronies, they’ll keep right on supplying all the oil and half the food that’s needed for the survival of their North Korean protectorate ― and for the elite to go right on living comfortably while most of the North’s 25 million people go hungry.
It’s the image of North Korea against the world, though, that Kim loves to cultivate most.
We’re fighting alone against those who would destroy us, that is, just about everyone, his propaganda machine indoctrinates every North Korean from kindergarten onward. It’s not just the Americans, it’s a phalanx of bully boys who’ve overrun us and lorded it over us for centuries, the Chinese, the Japanese, also the Russians.
Victimhood from external enemies provides the perfect pretext for internal crackdowns. While our enemies conspire to kidnap and lure and bribe our citizens overseas to join their camp, we need to defend ourselves from insidious worms within. What better excuse can there be for a purge that ensnares not only senior officials but also their families, lucky to be sent to prison while the man who supported them gets executed.
Not that ordinary North Koreans know about high-level defections overseas. The Korean Central News Agency disseminates the news about such “scum” for foreign eyes only. No way should the masses at home think their government is so weak as to have no control over its high-level emissaries abroad.
In projecting the heroic image of us against the world, nukes and missiles are points of national pride that Kim wants all his people to share. Could there have been any better time than while all the bully boys were conspiring and collaborating at the G-20 conflab in China for the North Koreans to pop off still more missiles?
Take that, China. Take that, America, Japan, Russia.
Stop us if you can! We dare you. In answer to which, China, America, Japan and Russia really did nothing.
Donald Kirk has been covering war and peace in Asia for decades. He’s at firstname.lastname@example.org.