South Korea’s decision not to send a government delegation to next week’s funeral for Kim Jong-il is “an unbearable insult and mockery of our dignity,” North Korea said on Friday. South Korea must “show proper respect,” according to a statement from the North’s official Web site, Uriminzokkiri.com, that is its first comment on South Korean policy since reports of Kim’s death from a heart attack on Saturday surfaced.
North Korea’s statement also called on “the South’s authorities” to “think about the grave impact its actions will have on North-South relations” and warned — threatened — that the South’s response could “thaw or completely derail” relations between the two countries, which remain technically at war.
North Korea’s state media says that no state dignitaries have been invited to next Wednesday’s funeral, but that South Koreans are being encouraged to travel to Pyongyang, North Korean’s capital, to pay their respects. Mourning for the deceased dictator is to continue until December 29 and thousands of North Koreans have been filing past Kim’s glass-encased body or bowing before pictures of him in respect. The sight of thousands of North Koreans distraught and weeping in public, whether staged or genuine, attests to the “power and totality” of propaganda in North Korea, comments Max Fisher in The Atlantic.
Seoul and Washington have issued coordinated statements about the death of North Korea’s “Dear Leader,” notes the New York Times:
[Both] were careful to direct their “sympathy” or “prayers” to the “North Korean people,” not to the regime, in contrast to Beijing and Moscow, which sent their official condolences to Pyongyang.
“With regard to ‘the c word,’ I think we didn’t considerate it appropriate in this case,” Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, said in Washington.
The South Korean government is seeking to avoid any sign of approving of Kim’s legacy while also wishing to “relay hopes for a stable transition in Pyongyang and a more productive relationship with the North.” Seoul has said that private organizations and individuals can fax or email condolences. Some South Korean religious and civic organizations have asked if private delegations can attend the funeral as a way of improving relations, but some activists have had other ideas, including sending giant balloons to the north that say “Why send condolences to the Evil?”.
The guest list for the funeral is itself giving rise to speculation. The Guardian says that one of the few non-Koreans invited is Tenko Hikita, a Japanese celebrity magician who was invited to perform in Pyongyang at Kim Jong-il’s request in 2008 and 2010, and who reportedly had several private dinners with him. Not on the list is Kim’s oldest son, Kim Jong-nam, who lives in effective exile in Macau:
…the 40-year-old ruled himself out of succession plans when he was caught attempting to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001, saying he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland. His detention, and immediate deportation, proved a huge embarrassment for the North Korean authorities.
Jong-nam failed where the leader-in-waiting, his youngest brother Kim Jong-un, had apparently succeeded. Jong-un made a visit to Tokyo Disneyland in 1991, when he was aged about eight, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said. Accompanied by his elder brother, Jong-chul, he entered Japan on a fake Brazilian passport and stayed for 11 days. He had left by the time Japanese security agents began tracking his whereabouts, the newspaper said.
Ko Young-hee, the mother of Kim Jong-il’s youngest son and heir, Kim Jong-un, was actually born in the Japanese port city of Osaka, to an ethnic Korean family. About 600,000 Koreans live in Japan; they are mostly the descendants of Koreans forced to work in Japan during World War II.
On Friday, the Japanese government said that, should “several leading members of the general association of Korean residents in Japan – North Korea’s de facto embassy” — travel to North Korea to attend Kim’s funeral, they will not be allowed to re-enter. The day before, a moment of silence was observed in the United Nations General Assembly for Kim Jong-il; Japan, the US and the members of the European Union all boycotted.
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Photo of Kim Jong-il mural in Pyongyang by John Pavelka
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