Kim Il Sung
Posted by eGZact on October 29, 2007
AKA ‘Great Leader’, AKA ‘Eternal Leader’, AKA ‘Suryong’ (Supreme Leader).
Country: North Korea.
Kill tally: About three million killed in the Korean War. Between 600,000 and one million North Koreans needlessly starved to death due to the economic legacy of Kim’s regime. (Some reports claim that as many as three million starved.)
Background: From an early date Korean political culture is characterised by isolationism and a strong desire to maintain the country’s independence. China, though treated with deference, is kept at arm’s length and relations with other neighbours are discouraged. Among Westerners Korea comes to be known as the ‘Hermit Kingdom’.
Nevertheless, the country is unable to stop encroachment by neighbours. Korea is made a Japanese protectorate in 1905 and is turned into a full colony of the growing Japanese Empire in 1910. By the 1940s there are about 700,000 Japanese in Korea, mostly working in government service. While the Japanese policies result in substantial economic growth, Koreans become second-class citizens within their own land.
Mini biography: Born on 15 April 1912 in Mangyongdae in the Pyongyang Province of northern Korea into what was probably a middle-class family. His birth name is Kim Song Ju. He is the eldest of three sons. Kim’s younger brother dies early. His youngest brother will serve with him until the mid-1970s. Kim’s father is a Christian and Kim attends church throughout his teens.
1919 – On 1 March a group of 33 intellectuals call for independence from Japan, sparking nationwide mass protests that continue for months despite harsh repression by the Japanese (the so-called ‘March 1st Movement’). The movement fails to win independence for Korea but does cause the Japanese to reform their administration.
Meanwhile, Kim’s parents leave Japanese-occupied Korea for Manchuria, where Kim attends a Chinese school.
1923 – In April Kim moves to Pyongyang for further schooling, returning to Manchuria in 1925, where he continues his education in the Chinese school system.
1925 – The Korean Communist Party (KCP) is founded in Seoul.
1926 – Kim’s father dies at the age of 32. His mother will die in 1932.
1929 – In October, while attending Yuwen Middle School in Jilin, Manchuria, Kim is jailed for belonging to a student political group led by the South Manchurian Communist Youth Association. When he is released in May the following year he joins a unit of the Anti-Japanese United Army operating in Manchuria’s Jilin Province. In 1932 he is made the unit’s commander.
1930s – Korean military leaders become involved in the anti-Japanese resistance to the first time. The resistance strengthens after Japan invades Manchuria in 1931. Over 200,000 Chinese and Koreans join guerrillas groups, though the number quickly drops to several thousand under a bloody Japanese counterinsurgency campaign.
Kim emerges as a significant resistance leader during this time, commanding the 6th Division, 2nd Army, 1st Route Army of the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army. At its height Kim’s division numbers about 300. The Japanese consider him to be so effective and dangerous they form a special unit to track him down. It is during this phase that he adopts the name Kim Il Sung, supposedly in honour of his uncle, who was a participant in the 1919 uprising.
1937 – The Second Sino-Japanese War breaks out on 7 July following a skirmish between Chinese and Japanese troops outside Beijing. Now on a war footing, Japan cracks down on its colony in Korea. Koreans are required to speak Japanese and take Japanese names.
1940 – Kim’s first wife, Kim Hye Sun, is captured by the Japanese on 6 April and later killed by them.
1941 – Kim is by now reputedly the only surviving leader of the Anti-Japanese United Army operating in Manchuria. In March he and about 120 of his men flee to Siberia, where they are detained by Soviet authorities and forced to join the 88th Special Independent Guerrilla Brigade of the Soviet Army, a unit assigned to intelligence gathering activities in Manchuria.
Kim is given command of the 1st Battalion of the brigade and he and his men are trained in espionage, radio communications and sabotage. They also receive political instruction. Kim and his men will work with the Soviets until the end of the war, by which time Kim has reached the rank of captain.
Meanwhile, across the Pacific Ocean, the Japanese airforce bombs the US naval base at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii on 7 December, causing the United States and Britain to declare war on Japan. After initial naval and battlefield successes an overstretched and increasingly desperate Japanese military is slowly driven back.
1942 – Kim’s son Kim Jong Il is born to his second wife, Kim Chong Suk, in an army camp in the Siberian city of Khabarovsk on 16 February. As part of the personality cult that will be created around Kim and his son it is later claimed that Kim Jong Il was born in a log cabin on the slopes of North Korea’s highest and most sacred peak, Paektu-san (White Head Mountain), on the border with Manchuria. To amplify the messianic nature of the myth it will be said that a double rainbow, a bright star in the sky and a swallow descending from heaven heralded his birth.
Kim Chong Suk will bear three more children to her husband, two boys and a girl. However, both boys will die young, one in a swimming accident and the other during a difficult birth that will also kill his mother.
Kim, his wife and a band of guerrillas and their families return to Korea from Siberia in September.
1945 – The US drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945 respectively, killing about 120,000 people outright and fatally injuring over 100,000 more.
Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrenders unconditionally on 14 August 1945, ending both the Second World War and the Second Sino-Japanese War.
At the end of the wars the Korean Peninsula is divided along the 38th parallel into two military occupation zones, with the US administering the south and the Soviet Union the north. Though initially intended as a temporary measure to facilitate the surrender of Japanese troops the partition becomes permanent as the Cold War sets in. North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), is formed under Soviet sponsorship and South Korea, or the Republic of Korea (ROK), receives backing from the US.
Meanwhile, Kim and about 40 of his partisans return to Pyongyang on 19 September aboard the Soviet warship ‘Pukachev’. Kim has been selected by Far East command of the Soviet secret police (the NKVD, or People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs – the forerunner of the KGB, or Komitet Gosudarstvenoi Bezopasnosti) to take charge of the formation of a provisional government for the North, the People’s Committee of North Korea.
The Central Organising Committee of the Communist Party of North Korea is founded on 10 October, which is also considered as the foundation date of the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP). Party membership numbers 4,530.
1946 – On 28 August the KWP is formally inaugurated under the leadership of Kim Tubong and Kim Il Sung. Formed through a merger of the Communist Party of North Korea and the New Democratic Party of Korea, the KWP begins to introduce a number of reforms to the North, including an eight-hour working day, equality of the sexes and suppression of religion. Land and wealth formerly belonging to the Japanese or to enemies of the regime is confiscated and redistributed, industry is nationalised and Soviet-style economic planning is initiated.
1947 – The People’s Committee of North Korea is formally established in February, with Kim as its head. Political power rests with the Supreme People’s Assembly, which is also headed by Kim.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union and North Korean authorities refuse to comply with a United Nations (UN) resolution calling for a general election to determine the government of a unified Korea. Despite this refusal elections go ahead in the South where, on 15 August 1948, the Republic of Korea is established.
1948 – The DPRK declares its independence on 9 September. Kim is head of state and government as well as chairman of the Central Committee of the KWP, and at one point controls the military. Opponents within the party are purged to secure his absolute rule.
Both the Republic of Korea in the South and the DPRK in the North claim to be the only legitimate government on the Korean Peninsula.
1949 – The US, having decided that South Korea lies outside its vital defence perimeter, begins to pull its troops out of the region. Kim subsequently starts sounding the drums for a war of reunification with the South, believing that the US troop withdrawal is a prelude to an invasion of the North by South Korean forces.
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin vetoes a plan by Kim to launch a preemptive attack by the North but does provide aid to assist with the build-up of a military force capable of countering the estimated 300,000 South Korean troops massing on the border at the 38th parallel. When low-level clashes begin to occur the border is fortified.
Chinese communist leader Mao Tse-Tung also tells Kim that the time is not right for a preemptive invasion, advising that he wait until the Chinese communists finally expel the Guomindang nationalists and take complete control of China.
Meanwhile, Kim’s second wife, Kim Chong Suk, dies in childbirth in September.
1950 – Kim spends April in Moscow attempting to convince Stalin and the Soviet authorities that he can win a war with the South. Finally Stalin agrees. The following month, during a visit by Kim to Beijing, Mao also gives the go-ahead.
The Korean War, known in the north as the ‘Fatherland Liberation War’ or the ‘Great War for the Liberation of the Motherland’, begins on 25 June when North Korean forces march into the South. Kim is head of the military committee coordinating the action as well as supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army.
According to the UN, the invasion is “initiated without warning and without provocation, in execution of a carefully prepared plan.” The UN Security Council passes a resolution demanding that the North Koreans withdraw. When they refuse the UN General Assembly authorises military action against the North.
The Soviet-backed North Korean troops are initially successful, seizing all but a small corner in the southeast of the country within a month. However, final victory eludes the North Koreans.
The situation is quickly reversed is early September when the US-led UN Command force launches a surprise counteroffensive behind the North Korean lines then drives Kim’s army back almost to the border with China. The North Koreans avoid a total route only with the aid of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army, a massive force numbering almost three million troops that is dispatched by Mao. By early 1951 the opposing forces are again facing off over the 38th parallel.
The UN intervention is the body’s first collective action since its formation in 1945. The Command force is comprised of troops from 16 member nations (Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Columbia, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, and the US) and medical support from five others (Denmark, India, Italy, Norway and Sweden).
1952 – Membership of the KWP now numbers one million.
1953 – The war ends on 27 July when North Korea, the UN Command and China sign an armistice. Neither the US nor South Korea sign the agreement, though both adhere to its provisions. A 2 km-wide demilitarised zone is established along the border.
The war has claimed up to two million civilian casualties. North Korean troop casualties are estimated at about 867,000, including 317,000 dead, 304,000 wounded and 102,000 missing in action (Chinese sources put the figure at 520,000).
Chinese casualties are estimated at about 953,000, including 423,000 dead, 487,000 wounded and 22,000 missing. (Chinese sources put the casualty figure at between 431,000 and one million, including 145,000 to 152,000 dead, 26,000 captured or missing, 260,000 to 383,000 wounded and 450,000 hospitalised.)
South Korea suffers 58,127 combat deaths and 175,743 wounded. (Chinese sources claim 415,000 deaths and 429,000 wounded.)
US casualties include 54,246 dead and 103,284 wounded. Casualties for the other countries under the UN Command include 3,322 dead and 11,949 wounded. Throughout Korea, but especially in the North, much of the basic infrastructure has been destroyed.
According to Kim, “The Korean people achieved the heroic victory in the three years fighting against the armed invaders, the Imperialist Yankees, to defend the freedom and independence of the Motherland. The North American imperialist aggressors suffered an humiliating defeat in their military adventure when they tried to convert our Motherland into their colony and make Korean people become slaves for them.”
Under the armistice an international conference is convened at Geneva in April 1954 to try to find a political solution to the problem of Korea’s division. However, the conference ends without agreement or progress after seven weeks of futile debate. No final peace treaty will ever be signed.
Meanwhile, senior leaders within the KWP attempt to overthrow Kim in September 1953. Eleven conspirators in the failed coup are later convicted in a show trial. It is believed that all are executed and their property confiscated.
A major purge of the KWP follows, with members originating from South Korea being expelled. Further purges are launched in the late 1950s, when the axe falls on the pro-Chinese and pro-Russian factions, and in the late 1960s, when the military is placed under the spotlight.
The post-war period also sees the establishment by Kim of a work camp system similar to that used in the Soviet Union for the detention of “political” prisoners. It is estimated that by the end of the century between 150,000 and 200,000 political and criminal prisoners are held in six or seven sprawling complexes called ‘kwan-li-so’ (political penal-labour colonies).
Most inmates face life sentences, many for “crimes” such as reading a foreign newspaper, singing a South Korean pop song or “insulting the authority” of the North Korean leadership.
Kim’s decree that, “Factionalists or enemies of class, whoever they are, their seed must be eliminated through three generations,” condemns up to three generations of the families of political prisoners to life imprisonment without trial.
1955 – Kim develops a Marxist-Leninist political ideology that emphasises the need for autonomy and patriotic self-reliance. Called ‘Juche’ (also spelt Chuch’e), or ‘Kim Il Sung Thought’, the ideology demands total loyalty to the paramount leader and the “religion of Kim Il Sungism” (Kim Il Sung Chuui) and stresses the benefits of sacrifice, austerity, discipline, dedication, unity and patriotism. It is described as “encyclopedic thought which provides a complete answer to any question that arises in the struggle for national liberation and class emancipation, in the building of socialism and communism.”
According to the official website of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim has explained the Juche ideology this way: “The Juche idea means, in a few words, the idea that the people’s masses are the owners of the revolution and construction, and that the power for the revolution and construction also comes from the people’s masses. It means that the owner of the destiny is one himself, and the power to change the destiny is inside one himself. … To transform all the society according to the Juche idea is the general task of our revolution. Only in this way we can definitively achieve the purpose of the Chajusong (self-reliance) for the worker’s masses.”
However, while preaching self-reliance, Kim begins to travel regularly to the Soviet Union, China and Eastern Europe to seek loans and aid for the reconstruction of North Korean’s shattered economy and infrastructure.
At the same time as North Koreans are being encouraged to follow the “Juche idea”, a personality cult is created around Kim, in the mould of the cults created around Stalin in the Soviet Union and Mao in China.
Kim is described as the “iron-willed, ever-victorious commander”, the “great sun and great man”, the “great leader”, the “great father”, the “sun of the nation”, the “clairvoyant”, “the supreme brain of the nation”, a “matchless patriot” and “national hero” and “one of the genius leaders of the international communist movement and workers’ movement”. He comes to be seen by North Koreans as a semi-divine emperor.
The North Korean media, which is entirely state-owned and controlled, ceaselessly promotes a highly fabricated biography of Kim that portrays him as an infallible genius and the driving force behind the resistance to the Japanese and the liberation of the North.
By the late 1980s Kim will have erected more than 34,000 monuments to himself. His portrait is displayed in public spaces throughout the country, within every private home and on most articles of clothing. The calendar is recalibrated to begin at the year of Kim’s birth (1912), which is called ‘Juche 1’. His birthday is declared a national holiday. All questioning or dissent is outlawed, as is the practice of any religion other than the worship of Kim Il Sung.
The personality cult will be extended to Kim’s son, Kim Jong Il, who is dubbed the ‘Dear Leader’ and described as “a genius of 10,000 talents”, “the morning star”, the “central brain”.
Meanwhile, a Soviet-style development program results in economic growth surpassing that in South Korea, a pattern that will continue until the late 1970s, when growth rates begin to fall just as foreign debt begins to rise. As the situation deteriorates North Korea becomes the first communist country to default on its loans from free market countries.
A similar scenario will develop in the agricultural sector, where collectivisation sees initial increases in production and rural living standards before the situation begins to reverse.
1955 – At a gathering of leaders of 29 African and Asian nations at Bandung in Indonesia during April Kim is presented with a hybrid orchid by Indonesian President Sukarno. Named ‘Kimilsungia’, the orchid becomes one of North Korea’s two national flowers. The other, a variety of camellia, is called ‘Kimjongilia’.
1962 – Kim marries his third wife, Kim Song Ae. It is believed that the couple have four children.
1966 – Kim is named general secretary of the Central Committee of the KWP.
1967 – In China Kim becomes a target of Mao Tse-Tung’s ‘Cultural Revolution’, with the ‘Red Guards’ denouncing him as a counterrevolutionary revisionist, a millionaire and a capitalist.
1968 – On 21 January North Korean commandos attempt to assassinate South Korean President Park Chung Hee and other senior government officials. Kim Il Sung later claims to have known nothing about the raid.
Two days after the assassination attempt the US spy ship ‘Pueblo’ is seized in international waters by North Korean gunboats. The ship’s crew is held until December. In April 1969 a US reconnaissance plane is shot down by North Korean MiG jet fighters.
Many other similar incidents will occur over the coming years, with infiltration by North Korean agents into the South being particularly common.
South Korea also engages in cross-border espionage, including one mission to assassinate Kim Il Sung that is planned immediately after the attempt to kill President Park Chung Hee but never carried out.
1972 – Kim relinquishes his position as head of government but remains head of state by assuming the presidency under a revised constitution.
During the celebrations of his 60th birthday Kim’s personality cult and deification reach new levels, with 300,000 North Koreans attending the opening of a revolutionary museum in Pyongyang that is fronted by a 21-metre high bronze statue of Kim.
Meanwhile, the two Koreas hold talks at a high level, announcing on 4 July that they will seek a peaceful reunification. However, the initiative quickly falters.
1973 – Kim Jong Il is made secretary of the KWP’s Central Committee.
1974 – In August another unsuccessful assassination attempt is made on South Korean President Park Chung Hee. Hee’s wife is killed during the attempt. In November a North Korean infiltration tunnel dug across the demilitarised zone is discovered. The South Korean authorities will discover other tunnels in March 1975, October 1978 and March 1990. As many as 17 tunnels are believed to have been constructed.
The edge of the demilitarised zone will also be fortified with about 11,000 artillery pieces aimed at the South.
1976 – The KWP now claims to have a membership of two million.
1978 – South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee and her film director husband Shin Sang-ok are kidnapped by North Korean agents and taken to Pyongyang. The couple escape to South Korea in 1986 while on a filming assignment in Vienna.
According to the South Korean government, 454 South Koreans abducted by the North since 1955 remain in detention. South Korea also believes that 268 South Korean prisoners of war remain alive in the North. Kim Il Sung’s regime is also accused of abducting at least 10 Japanese nationals.
1980 – During the Sixth Party Congress held in October it is announced that Kim Jong Il will succeed his father. Party membership is now said to number 3.2 million. Meanwhile, North Korea defaults on all its international loans except those from Japan.
1982 – In April Kim Il Sung announces a new economic policy giving priority to increased agricultural production through land reclamation, development of the country’s infrastructure and reliance on domestically produced equipment. There is also more emphasis on trade.
Kim’s 70th birthday is celebrated in lavish style, with the Juche Tower and Arch of Triumph being unveiled. The tower is a larger version of the Washington Monument and features 25,550 blocks of granite, one for each day of the 70 years of Kim’s life. The arch is a larger version of Arc de Triomphe in Paris and features 70 base reliefs of azaleas. On the same day, a 100,000-seat Kim Il Sung Stadium is opened.
1983 – In October North Korean agents attempt to assassinate South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan while he is Rangoon, the capital of Burma. The bomb intended for Chun kills 17 senior South Korean officials and injures 14 others. Four Burmese nationals are also killed and 32 wounded. President Chun states that the bombing is “a grave provocation not unlike a declaration of war,” and warns the North that “should such a provocation recur, there would be a corresponding retaliation in kind.”
Kim Il Sung dismisses Chun’s statement as “a preposterous slander” and suggests that the bombing was “masterminded” by Chun for a “hideous purpose.” However, two North Korean suspects arrested and tried for the bombing confirm that it was planned by the DPRK. On 4 November Burma breaks off diplomatic relations with North Korea.
Other plots by the DPRK to assassinate Chun are also uncovered in Canada.
North Korea, meanwhile, begins testing triggering devices for a nuclear weapon.
1984 – Dialogue between the two Koreas is renewed when South Korea accepts an offer by the North to provide relief goods to victims of severe flooding in the South.
Kim Il Sung visits Moscow in May, his first trip to the Soviet Union since 1961. The trip results in renewed deliveries of advanced Soviet weaponry to North Korea and increases in economic aid. From the Soviet Union he travels on to Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania.
1986 – North Korea joins the nuclear age, commissioning a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, 100 km north of Pyongyang. The North will soon begin a program to develop nuclear weapons, using both plutonium reprocessed from the reactor’s spent fuel rods and enriched uranium.
Meanwhile, the North unilaterally suspends all talks with the South, saying that the annual ‘Team Spirit’ military exercises between the South and the US were incompatible with friendly dialogue.
The North’s foreign debt has now reached about US$6 billion. Japan declares the DPRK to be in default.
1987 – On 29 November a South Korean Airline passenger plane and all 115 people aboard disappear without trace over the Andaman Sea off the coast of Burma. The disappearance is attributed to the on board explosion of a bomb planted by two North Korean agents, who are later arrested, tried and convicted.
In North Korea evidence begins to emerge that the country is slipping towards famine. The regime ignores the signs.
1988 – The US Secretary of State James A. Baker III declares “that North Korea is a country which has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.”
1989 – Kim Il Sung secretly announces that the North now has the technology to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium.
1990s – Early in the decade there are reports that food shortages in the North are leading to rioting and the imposition of food rationing. It is estimated that North Korea is about one million tonnes short of grain self-sufficiency each year.
Reports also indicate that the country’s economy is in serious decline, with the output of iron, steel, cement and refined oil falling significantly, and factories closing or operating at well under capacity.
Power is available for only a few hours a day, if at all, and the water delivery system ceases to operate.
Nevertheless, North Korea maintains one of the largest armies in the world, with military spending soaking up about 20-25% of gross national product under Kim Il Sung’s ‘Songun’ (‘Army First’) policy.
Moves for reunification of the two Koreas continue. The prime ministers of the two Koreas meet in September 1990, paving the way for direct trade between the two countries.
The ‘Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, Exchanges, and Cooperation’ (the North-South Basic Agreement) and the ‘Declaration on the Denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula’ (Joint Denuclearisation Declaration) are signed in December 1991. Both come into effect in February 1992. However, by the end of 1992 dialogue between the two Koreas has stalled.
At the same time, North Korea becomes even more internationally marginalised. The Soviet Union and South Korea establish diplomatic relations in September 1990. China and South Korea open trade offices in 1991 and establish diplomatic relations in August 1992. Both Koreas are admitted to the UN in September 1991.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellite states from 1989-1991 also sees a significant drop in communist aid to North Korea.
1990 – In May Kim Il Sung is reelected for another four-year term as president.
1992 – Kim appoints his son and designated successor, Kim Jong Il, as supreme commander, or ‘wnsu’, of the army.
On 9 April the Ninth Supreme People’s Assembly approves a revised constitution that elevates Kim’s Juche ideology to the centre of North Korean politics. Kim is also given the title of ‘Generalisimo of the DPRK’.
However, the impression of unity is breached when a coup plot by generals seeking economic reform is exposed. Two of the coup leaders are captured and executed. Others involved in the plot escape to Russia. Over the following years members of the military will plan several other abortive attempts at insurrection.
Meanwhile, North Korea signs an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that allows the IAEA to inspect the country’s main nuclear facility at Yongbyon. However, in January 1993 the inspectors are denied access to two suspected nuclear waste sites, sparking a row that leads to North Korea threatening in March 1993 to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
1993 – In April Kim turns over the chairmanship of the National Defence Commission to Kim Jong Il. The same month the Supreme People’s Assembly adopts a ‘Ten-point Program of Great Unity of the Whole Nation for Reunification of the Country’ that urges an “end to the national division.”
In June, following the first ever bilateral talks between North Korea and the US, North Korea announces that it has “decided to unilaterally and temporarily suspend the effectuation of the withdrawal from the NPT as long as it considers necessary.” However, the IAEA is still refused access to the country’s nuclear facilities.
In May the head of the North’s State Administration Council proposes to South Korea that the two sides exchange special envoys to take charge of reunification affairs.
However, despite North Korea’s rhetoric, real dialogue between the two Koreas remains stalled.
In December the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) announces that North Korea has probably built at least one nuclear weapon. The IAEA estimates that North Korea could have enough plutonium for one or two bombs.
1994 – North Korea agrees to resume talks with the South. IAEA inspectors are allowed back into the North in March but are not granted to access all areas of interest. On 31 March the UN Security Council issues a formal statement calling on North Korea to allow the IAEA full and complete inspection of all nuclear sites. The council stops short of passing a resolution on the matter because of opposition from China.
Kim Il Sung denies that North Korea has been or is developing nuclear weapons.
The IAEA inspectors return in May but are again denied unrestricted access and prevented from testing fuel rods to see if any have been diverted to a nuclear weapons program.
At the same time, it is confirmed that North Korea is developing a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to Japan. A test is conducted on 31 May over the Sea of Japan.
Former US President Jimmy Carter visits North Korea on 15-18 June, meeting with Kim Il Sung. The US agrees to resume the high-level talks between the two nations and schedules a meeting for 8 July in Geneva. In return North Korea agrees to “freeze” its nuclear program, allow IAEA inspectors to remain at Yongbyon and halt the reprocessing of fuel rods.
On 28 June North and South Korea agree to hold a leaders summit on 25-27 July in Pyongyang. It is the first meeting of its type since the division of the peninsula in 1945.
Kim dies suddenly in his country villa on 8 July from a heart attack “owing to heavy mental strains.” All the scheduled talks are suspended. His state funeral is held on 18 July and is followed by a three-year-long period of national mourning. It is later reported that Kim’s death occurred during a heated argument with his son, Kim Jong Il.
Suspicions over the circumstances of Kim’s death are heightened by reports that Kim Jong Il refused to allow doctors to enter his father’s room for an extended period. Further questions are raised by the crash of two out of the five helicopters assigned to fly Kim’s corpse to Pyongyang, killing the doctors and bodyguards on board, and by the disappearance without trace of other functionaries.
Kim Jong Il is also reported to have concealed the depth of the country’s economic crisis and the extent of its famine from his father, and to have opposed reunification with the South.
Kim Il Sung’s death causes real sorrow among the thoroughly indoctrinated North Korean population. His embalmed body is laid to rest in the Kumsusan presidential palace in Pyongyang, which is converted at a cost of about US$900 million into a memorial for the dead dictator. In death he becomes the ‘Eternal Leader’.
The talks between North Korea and the US resume in August 1994. A framework for resolving the nuclear issue is signed on 21 October. Under the framework North Korea agrees to permanently shut down nuclear facilities capable of enriching fuel rods to weapons-grade levels and cooperate with IAEA inspectors.
In return the US agrees to ease economic sanctions and assist in replacing the North’s outmoded nuclear reactors with modern light water systems designed to produce less weapons-grade plutonium. The US also agrees to finance deliveries of 500,000 barrels a year of heavy fuel oil to the North until the new reactors are constructed. However, apart from the oil shipments, the aid is never provided.
1995 – Chronic food shortages are exacerbated by record floods in the summer months. Widespread famine follows. It is estimated that between 600,000 and one million people die of starvation and famine-related illnesses by 2000. Some reports claim that as many as three million die.
1997 – Kim Jong Il is named general secretary of the KWP in October. In September 1998 he is reconfirmed as chairman of the National Defence Commission, which is declared to be the “highest office of state”. Kim is also supreme commander of the People’s Armed Forces.
A new party slogan states that “Kim Il Sung is Kim Jong Il”.
1998 – North Korea’s constitution is amended to declare Kim Il Sung as “president for eternity”.
However, discontent with his legacy hovers under the surface. In the industrial city of Songrim, 40 km to the south of Pyongyang, the biggest labour demonstration in the country’s history breaks out following the public execution of eight managers of the Hwanghae Iron and Steel Works. The demonstration is brutally suppressed by the military, with hundreds reported killed.
Meanwhile, the country declares its intention to continue to develop, test, deploy and sell missiles in order to counter the alleged military threat presented by the US and to earn foreign currency. Since the 1980s North Korean missiles have been exported to Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen, with the trade earning about US$600 million a year. Missile technology has been sold to Pakistan. In return Pakistan has provided North Korea with plans for the construction of a nuclear device. Pakistan is also thought to have assisted North Korea to develop a uranium enrichment program.
North Korea also negotiates with the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq for the sale of missile technology, although the deal ultimately falls through. In November 2003 the ‘Far Eastern Economic Review’ reports that North Korea is negotiating to trade surface-to-surface missiles with Burma in return for heroin. North Korea is also assisting Burma to construct a nuclear reactor, the report states.
2000 – North Korea’s foreign debt is now estimated at US$10-12 billion.
Kim Jong Il formally takes over as head of state of North Korea. From 13-15 June he meets with Kim Dae Jung, the president of South Korea, at an unprecedented leader’s summit held in Pyongyang. The two governments agree “to resolve the question of reunification independently and through the joint efforts of the Korean people.”
The US announces an easing of sanctions against North Korea on 19 June.
The renewed atmosphere of détente leads to the first officially sanctioned temporary reunions of families separated by the Korean War, the start of mail service between the two countries and the reopening of road and rail links that had been severed by the creation of the demilitarised zone.
2001 – In September diplomatic relations between North Korea and Japan resume for the first time since 1948, with Kim Jong Il and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi signing a joint declaration to begin normalising relations at a summit meeting in Pyongyang. During the summit Kim Jong Il admits that North Korea had kidnapped 11 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, four of who were still alive.
2002 – Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the US and the subsequent retaliatory action against Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban in Afghanistan, US President George W. Bush nominates North Korea as one of the members of an “axis of evil” that also includes Iran and Iraq.
In October North Korea privately confesses to the US that it is secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons development program using enriched uranium, in violation of the 1994 agreement between the two countries. When the US announces that it will stop financing the deliveries of heavy fuel oil also covered by the agreement North Korea declares that the agreement has collapsed. The North later denies that it ever admitted having a uranium enrichment program.
In December IAEA inspectors are ejected from the country and their monitoring equipment dismantled. North Korea now plans to restart a nuclear reactor shut down under the 1994 agreement and reopen a laboratory capable of reprocessing spent fuel rods into weapons-grade plutonium.
2003 – On 10 January North Korea withdraws from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty because it is “most seriously threatened” by the US. On 18 February the North threatens to abandon the 1953 armistice if the US imposes trade sanctions. In April the North openly claims to have nuclear weapons.
In August a CIA assessment finds that “North Korea has produced one or two simple fission-type nuclear weapons and has validated the designs without conducting yield-producing nuclear tests.”
On 22 October the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea releases a report documenting “a vast and inhumane prison system for political prisoners” in North Korea. Titled ‘The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps’, the report is based on interviews with 31 North Korean exiles, including escaped former prisoners, former prison guards and a former prison-system official.
According to the report, “All the prison facilities are characterised by very large numbers of deaths in detention from forced, hard labour accompanied by deliberate starvation-level food rations. Incarceration of Koreans repatriated from China includes routine torture during interrogation and the practice of forced abortion or infanticide inflicted upon babies borne by pregnant repatriates.”
North Korea denies that the camps exist or that there is a human rights problem in the country “either from the institutional or from the legal point of view.”
Meanwhile, at ceremonies held on 8 July to mark the anniversary of his death, Kim Il Sung is praised by the state media as the “greatest statesman of the 20th Century.”
Also during the year the World Food Program and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report that chronic malnutrition has left 42% of North Korean children physically stunted and in danger of intellectual impairment.
2004 – In early January North Korean officials tell a US delegation that claims about their country’s nuclear capacity have been exaggerated and that they do not have a nuclear weapon or a program to enrich uranium.
On 1 February the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) airs a program alleging that prisoners in North Korea’s largest concentration camp are being killed in gas chambers.
According to a former commander of Prison Camp No. 22, situated near Haengyong in the northeast border-country, the victims are sealed in a glass chamber into which deadly gas is pumped while scientists observe their deaths.
“I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber,” the former commander says in an interview recorded for the BBC program.
The gassings are believed to be part of a North Korean program to develop chemical weapons. North Korea is thought to possess 5,000 tonnes of materials for the production of nerve gases as well as large stockpiles of shells filled with chemical agents.
However, other North Korean defectors as well as South Korean security officials question the claims by the former commander, saying that previous statements made by him had been discredited.
Another account of chemical experiments on political prisoners is considered to be more credible. According to the unnamed witness, a former senior North Korean chemist who defected to the South, during 1979 he was invited to observe the effects of chemicals containing cyanide and ortho-nitrochlorobenzene on two political prisoners at a military prison 20 km north of Pyongyang.
“It was horrible,” the chemist says, “They were screaming and yelling. … They seemed to develop some superhuman strength before they died. I kept thinking: It is not so simple to kill a human being after all.”
The chemist says that he learned through a colleague that chemical experiments on humans continued at least into the mid-1990s.
On 27 September North Korea’s deputy foreign minister tells the UN General Assembly that his country has reprocessed 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods and transformed them into arms.
Meanwhile, Kim Jong Il acts to consolidate his leadership and ensure that he is succeeded by one of his sons. A potential rival, Kim’s brother-in-law Chang Song Taek, is purged from the government and a new criminal code is introduced. The new code increases penalties for those caught criticising the government or importing banned books, videos or music. It also imposes the death sentence or life imprisonment in a labour camp on anyone found guilty of organising an insurgency.
2005 – In January North Korea cuts the daily food ration from 300 grams of cereals a day to 250 grams, half the minimum requirement.
According to James Morris, executive director of the World Food Program, “You look at the average seven-year-old North Korean boy and compare him to the average seven-year-old South Korean boy, he’s 20cm shorter and 10kg lighter.”
On 10 February the North publicly acknowledges for the first time that is possesses nuclear weapons, saying “We … have manufactured nukes for self-defence to cope with the Bush administration’s evermore undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the (North).”
North Korea finally returns to the disarmament negotiation table on 26 July, joining talks with the South, China, Japan, Russia and the US it had previously threatened to boycott.
The talks, which are held in Beijing, last for 13 days before stalling on the North’s demand that it be allowed to generate electricity in nuclear power plants using light water reactors.
Meanwhile, the UN World Food Program (WFP) reiterates its concern that North Korea is facing a serious food shortage. “Our sense is that the food situation in North Korea is particularly serious right now,” WFP executive director James Morris says after visiting the country. However, the situation was not as bad as during the 1990s and Morris did not see the North descending into another famine.
The six-nation talks resume in September. An agreement on disarmament is finally signed but then thrown into doubt when the North reiterates its demand for light water reactors. Negotiations on the details of the agreement take place in November but adjourn with little progress.
2006 – On 9 October the North announces that it has successfully detonated a nuclear device. The UN adopts limited, weapons-related sanctions against the regime on 14 October.
The six-nation talks resume once more on 18 December but quickly stall when North Korea refuses to discuss nuclear weapons and disarmament until UN sanctions and US financial restrictions are lifted. The talks break up on 22 December.
2007 – By 8 February the talks are back on, reaching a breakthrough when the North agrees to close the Yongbyon reactor and readmit international inspectors in exchange for US$400 million of food, fuel and other aid from the US, China, South Korea and Russia.
IAEA inspectors return to North Korea at the end of June. On 16 July they confirm that the Yongbyon reactor has been shut down.
Further talks follow but no firm agreement is reached on a time-line for the complete denuclearisation of the North.
Comment: According to the official website of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, “Pyongyang and today’s North Korea is a socialist paradise where all the people have a life with dignity, without poverty and more than ever demonstrate the invincibility and union of the masses around the Leader.”
This is a “socialist paradise” where at 7 a.m. each morning all across the country loudspeakers broadcast the song ’10 Million Human Bombs for Kim Il Sung’.
This is a “paradise” subject to periodic famine, where the level of malnutrition has caused the army to lower the minimum height for conscripts.
This is a “paradise” where power blackouts are common, as are diseases such as tuberculosis and cholera, and where its citizens can be imprisoned for singing a song.
The CIA estimates that Kim Il Jong has over US$4 billion stashed away in Swiss bank accounts, plundered from a gold mine in North Korea. He has six villas in Europe, one in Russia and one in China. He lives a lavish, though insular, lifestyle.
In the “paradise” created by his father, with more than a little bit of help from his friends, all people are equal, but some people are more equal than others, to paraphrase the famous quote in George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’.
It is a “paradise” where “war is peace”, “freedom is slavery”, “ignorance is strength”, to again quote Orwell, this time from ‘1984’.
It is a “paradise” where ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (‘Work Makes You Free’), as the Nazis wrote over the gates of their death camps during the Second World War.