Geopolitics

North Korea: What Kim Jong-Un Shares With Japan's Wartime Emperor

As analysts try to gauge the new and largely untested North Korean leader, one Beijing-based Japanese commentator sees similarities between Kim Jong-Un's situation and what Emperor Hirohito faced when he began his 60-year reign in Japan. It does

Hirohito (left) was 25 when he became emperor. Kim Jong-Un is 28.
Hirohito (left) was 25 when he became emperor. Kim Jong-Un is 28.
*Daisuke Kondo

BEIJING - Two weeks ago when President Obama attended the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul he paid a visit to the "38th parallel" – the Military Demarcation Line between the two Koreas where North and South Korean troops have faced each other for decades.

On the same day, to mark Kim Il-Sung's centenary, North Korea proposed to "return violence for violence". A month earlier in Beijing, US and North Korean representatives had exchanged "conciliatory handshakes," bowing to each other like Beijing Opera singers. Yet barely a month later, the two parties' momentary smiling faces have returned to cold stares.

The Korean peninsula is caught up in a tense situation again because on March 16, the North Korean government announced that in mid-April it would launch the Light Star 3 satellite. This immediately triggered a strong reaction from South Korea, Japan and America, who believe that Pyongyang's action is obviously a long-range ballistic missile test launch aimed at preparing to fire a nuclear warhead in the future. The three countries jointly started preparations to intercept the ballistic missile.

On March 26 and 27, during the Nuclear Security Summit, the 50-plus heads of state attending the meeting could feel for themselves the growing tension that is spreading across the Korean peninsula.

Ever since Kim Jong-Un succeeded his father as the supreme commander of the Korean People's Army in December, he has been frequently seen visiting and inspecting his armies. History tells us that Kim Jong-Un's actions over the past few months resemble those of the young Japanese leader of the last century: Emperor Hirohito.

In 1926, at the age of 25, Hirohito hastily assumed the throne upon the sudden death of his father Yoshihito. His official title was also promoted from Army and Navy Colonel to Supreme Commander of the Army and Navy of the Great Japanese Empire –the Generalissimo. The young emperor was surrounded by veterans who had fought in the Sino or Russo-Japanese wars. His main job when he first came to the throne was to dress in military uniform and conduct navy inspection "performances." The Japanese media of the time praised the emperor, trying to turn him into a living god. All Japanese families and offices hung his photo, though ordinary folk wondered how the emperor was managing the nation.

Hirohito Emperor had "authority," but no "right." All the great issues were decided at the Imperial Meeting hosted by him. But in practice, the emperor was just listening to the content of the meeting prepared by the military brass prior to the session to be approved without any changes.

That was why the Great Japan Imperial Army expanded steadily and provoked the Mukden Incident and the establishment of the puppet Manchukuo state in 1931, the departure from the League of Nations in 1933, and the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. This form of leadership finally led to a declaration of war on the world's strongest country, the United States, in 1941.

Today's North Korea looks a lot like Japan before the Second World War.

The danger is that in an isolated country where the leader is authoritative but without the right to lead, he tends to take a particularly hard line. In comparison to the complexity of the moderates, the hardliners' views can be more easily accepted as "reasonable and credible."

The moderate North Korean Foreign Minister visited Beijing at the end of February and compromised a little after two days of negotiation with the US, agreeing to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment in order to win 240,000 tons of food aid from the United States. For North Korea, which is ushering in on April 15 the "Sun Day" (the 100th anniversary of the birth of late President Kim Il-Sung), this was regarded as a huge diplomatic achievement.

However, the hardliners of the Korean People's Army simply sniffed and rejected the compromise forged between their Foreign Minister and the arch-enemy, the United States. They declared: "The launch of the Light Star is the only true salute to the nation and around the world to mark the arrival of the great era of Kim Jong-Un!"

Reluctant enemy

As was shown by many documents and witnesses, Emperor Hirohito did not originally want to be an enemy of the US, but he had no right to suppress the military hardliners surrounding him.

Likewise, Kim Jong-Un received the Associated Press in Pyongyang in January, and further reached a consensus on the enriched uranium issue with America through his Foreign Minister. His moves seemed like he would rather shake hands with the US than show fists.

Nevertheless, since the Korean war, the "expulsion of US Imperialism" has always been state doctrine in North Korea. Not to be enemies with America puts the North Korean army in an illegitimate position. If the North Korean regime is to lose its military characteristic, it would also mean substantial disarmament. This is obviously not what the hardliners want to see.

There's however some difference between Japan of yore and North Korea today. Japan was Asia's most powerful country at the time, while North Korea is a tiny country surrounded by four major powers - America, China, Japan and Russia. It is impossible for North Korea to invade other countries as Japan tried. But it is nonetheless possible that it might consider an invasion southward.

Since Kim Jong-Un took over power, North Korean provocation of the South has reached the most intense degree of the past half century. The mouthpiece of the Korean Workers' Party, the Labor News, abuses Lee Myung-bak, the South Korean president, day after day, and accuses him of being a national traitor. "Even if he dies, he is to be pulled out from his grave and cut to pieces!"

Coincidentally, American forces in Korea were originally scheduled to leave on April 17, and return operational control to South Korea. America agreed to postpone this date to 2015 on Lee Myung-Bak's request two years ago.

But if the 29,500 American soldiers retreat from South Korea in three years time, could the South withstand an attack if the North invades? I consulted my good friend, Dr. Zheng Chenggong, the director of the Sejong Institute, and South Korea's most famous expert on the North Korean regime. His view was notably pessimistic:

"It can be expected in the future that the North's provocative behavior towards the South will become more frequent. So South Korea must be on full alert and prepared at all times. If it can be said that the greatest achievement of the North Korean military during Kim Jong-Il's era was to have successfully completed nuclear research and nuclear tests, then in Kim Jong-Un's era, the North Korean military's measure of success would be the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles and the miniaturization of nuclear ballistic warheads. The headache for the South has only just begun."

Read the original article in Chinese

Photo - petersnoopy , wikipedia

*Daisuke Kondo, a former Japanese magazine editor, writes the E.O."s "View from Japan" column, and is the Vice General Manager of Kodansha Culture Co. in Beijing.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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