20 December 2011

Reflections on the North Korean regime change

The international tension associated with feelings of “what’s next” associated with the presumed accession to the North Korean leadership by Kim Jong-il’s little-known son and nominated heir Kim Jong-un, has been accompanied by a well-meaning statement (see here) by Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, addressed no doubt to Beijing, that

It is vital that all those with influence on Pyongyang reinforce the need for calm and restraint.

Best of luck.  I am reminded of a somewhat more direct appeal to the Chinese leadership in relation to North Korea when I visited China as a member of Bob Hawke’s delegation in February 1984.  This was just four months after the notorious Rangoon Bombing in which the North Koreans made an assassination attempt against South Korean President Choon Doo-hwan, who was visiting Rangoon with a large delegation.  Choon was to lay a wreath at the Maryr’s Mausoleum to commemorate Aung San, architect of Burmese Independence (and father of Aung San Suu Kyi), who was assassinated in 1947.

A bomb concealed in the roof of the mausoleum failed to kill Choon, but it killed 21 people, including three senior South Korean politicians and 14 Presidential Advisers, and injured 46 others.

Our last port of call had been Seoul, including a meeting with the intended victim of the Rangoon Bombing, and we had flown directly from Seoul to Beijing in the RAAF B-707 – a rare event in those days of minimal contact between China and South Korea, and we had been escorted to the limits of South Korean air space by South Korean fighters.  In the meetings with the Chinese leadership the subject of our time in Seoul was touched upon and Bob Hawke took advantage of the opportunity to urge the Chinese leadership to attempt to prevail upon the North Koreans to respect the norms of civilised international behaviour.  The Chinese leaders didn’t say anything much by way of response – no quotable quotes – but the way the roll of the eyes, the shrug of the shoulders and the upturned palms told you everything you needed to know.  The Chinese were claiming no influence over the behaviour of the North Koreans.  All that was almost 28 years ago, but I don’t think that situation has changed.

During our stay in Beijing we were quartered in a couple of villas in the Diaoyutai State Guest House, a large compound with a series of detached villas set in nice gardens with ornamental pools etc.  Every evening in that safest of cities that 1984 Beijing was, the PLA man on the front gate locked the gate, after which you needed a pass to come and go.  As it happened the only other guests in Diaoyutai at that time were the North Korean Foreign Minister and Party, in an adjacent villa.  I couldn’t help remarking to Bob and my colleagues one evening that the only people in Beijing who might possibly have a go at us were locked in with us.

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