AirTalk for December 19, 2011

Is there any hope for change in North Korea?

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AFP/Getty Images

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il (R) and then-leader, Jong-il's father, Kim Il-Sung (L) inspecting a soccer ground in Pyongyang in 1992.

He was 69. State media, in a "special broadcast" Monday from the North Korean capital, said Kim Jong Il died on a train due to a "great mental and physical strain" during a "high-intensity field inspection" on Saturday. His death sparked hysteria in a place where he fostered an intense adoration in the people he led.

This video compiled by North Korean state media shows mourners weeping over his death:

Kim has been a bit of an enigma on the world stage. The stories coming out of North Korea about "Dear Leader," as Kim is known, are hard to believe. There was the one about him being the world's greatest golfer. According to government documents, on his 72nd birthday, Kim hit five hole-in-ones. And to make the feat even more incredible: it was his first time playing the game.

He claimed to have invented the hamburger and written several operas. But Kim also ran, according to Human Rights Watch, one of the world's most repressive regimes with a state-controlled media, hundreds of thousands of political prisoners and many citizens living without adequate food.

In Los Angeles, many Korean Americans rejoiced, excited for change after Kim's 17 years of rule. "It's kind of morbid to celebrate someone's death," said Peter Huh, local Korean American and long-time supporter of KPCC. "But ... he was a cruel man who caused so much harm to his own citizens; I think there is no one who is going to feel sorry for his passing."

With Kim gone, Huh said that there is hope for reunification and peaceful coexistence of the North and South. But the Washington Post reports that financial disparity between North Korea's per capita income is less than 5 percent of the South's. According to Huh, the South's financial strain would be inevitable, but reunification is a must.

"These people, our people – we've been a country for 5,000 years ... This is really a blip in our history, and I think we are looking to East and West [Germany's reunification] as an inspiration that we can also do the same for our country," he said.

Young Ho Kim from Koreatown voiced the anxiousness some other local Korean Americans felt about a change in power. He said that Southern Korea should approach the situation carefully. "There are a lot of extremists in South Korea who just want to rush over and say 'This is our opportunity,'" he said. "But that can have repercussions. A lot of people in Korea don't want a war."

Amid speculation, North Korea remains tight-lipped about its information, and little is certain about what will happen after the change in power. The former North Korean leader wanted his successor to be his third son, Kim Jong Un. Not much is known about him, but he is believed to be in his late 20s, and there is speculation that he will rule with a group of advisers.

WEIGH IN:

What will the region be affected by the death of "Dear Leader?" What do we know about former North Korean leader's son, Kim Jong Un? Is there any hope for change in North Korea? And, how are Korean-Americans in the Southland dealing with today's news?

Guests:

Jim Walsh, International security expert at Security Studies Program, Center for International Studies at MIT

Dae Yoon, Executive Director, Korean Resource Center

Jihee Huh, Local Korean American, member of the KPCC Board of Directors


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