from The Water's Edge

The World Next Week: What Next on North Korea?

January 12, 2012

Kim Jong-un speaks while surrounded by soldiers in this undated still image by North Korean state TV KRT on January 8, 2012. (Courtesy Reuters)
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The World Next Week podcast is upBob McMahon and I discussed the meeting of U.S., Japanese, and South Korean officials to discuss North Korea; Taiwan’s elections this weekend; the anniversary of Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali’s ouster; and next week’s Republican presidential debate.


The highlights:

  • Kim Jong-un was named the “Great Successor” in North Korea last month after his father Kim Jong-il’s death. This leadership transition has North Korea’s neighbors scrambling to decide how to respond to what could be called the “Great Uncertainty”—whether Kim Jong-un really holds the reins of power in Pyongyang, and if so, what he might do next. U.S., Japanese, and South Korean leaders hope to persuade the Great Successor to shut down his country’s nuclear program. China could be a great help on that front. But Beijing’s past behavior doesn’t give any reason for optimism on that front.
  • Taiwan holds its first simultaneous elections for president and parliament (or Legislative Yuan) this weekend. Incumbent president Ma Ying-jeou is expected to win reelection, and his party, the Kuomintang (KMT), is likewise expected to maintain its majority in the Legislative Yuan. Independence from mainland China has faded as an issue in Taiwan’s election in recent years. Since his election in 2008, President Ma and the KMT-controlled legislature have encouraged closer economic, cultural, and social ties with mainland China.
  • The coming week marks the one-year anniversary of the ouster of Tunisia’s Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, the first Arab leader to be toppled by the popular uprisings that have swept through the region. Tunisia has since held elections, and it now has a new government led by Moncef Marzouki. Other Arab countries have not made as much progress, and social scientists will have their hands full seeking to explain why the Arab monarchs have (at least thus far) weathered the populist storm far better than their authoritarian colleagues.
  • Mitt Romney’s convincing win in New Hampshire has established him as the unquestioned frontrunner in the Republican presidential race. But the former Massachusetts governor has not yet won the nomination. His next test comes in nine days in South Carolina. That’s not hospitable territory for a northeastern (“Yankee”), moderate politician. South Carolina looks to be a make-or-break showdown for Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry. All three hope to rally the state’s social conservatives. They could, however, end up splitting that vote, and thus unintentionally help Romney.
  • Bob’s Figure of the Week is Ayatollah Seyed Ali Hoseyni Khāmene’i. My Figure of the Week is 1,144. Listen to the podcast to find out why.

The Christian Science Monitor covers the possibility of new talks between South and North Korea, and Reuters highlights concerns about the new North Korean leader’s possible “military adventurism.” UPI discusses the crucial issue of nuclear power in the Taiwanese elections, and AsiaOne considers how the elections may affect relations with Taiwan’s neighbor across the strait. In case you’ve already forgotten about President Ben Ali, CNN has a useful refresher on the former Tunisian leader, and’s “The Middle East Coverage” can tell you about Ben Ali’s replacement. Coming off another victory for Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, the Atlantic discusses the negative attacks on the frontrunner, and “The Cable” discusses the frontrunner’s attacks on the president’s foreign policy.