Book review: Chung Min Lee. 2019. The Hermit King: The Dangerous Game of Kim Jong Un

Published date01 December 2021
Date01 December 2021
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews
Chung Min Lee. 2019. The Hermit King: The Dangerous Game of
Kim Jong Un. United States: All Points Books, St. Martin’s Publishing
Group. 320 pp. ISBN 9781250202833.
Lee’s new book The Hermit King: The Dangerous Game of Kim Jong Un seeks
to profile the contemporary leadership of North Korea and the challenges before
Kim Jong Un, born from the very system so ardently created by his predecessors.
North Korea is one of the surviving reminders of the turbulent politics of the Cold
War and remains an enigma till date, with more meaning behind its mysterious
concealments than illicit nuclear tests and a threat to the American, or world
security. A few notable attempts have been made by scholars to unearth the
human rights’ violation of the totalitarian state and explain the ideology behind
the survival of the Kim dynasty (see Martin, 2004; Myers, 2010). Lee’s work not
only adds to the prevalent scholarship on the Democratic People’s Republic of
Korea (DPRK), but also offers new insights into the present Kim’s regime from
various perspectives.
Lee’s opening statement categorises DPRK as ‘world’s biggest jail’. Yet his
subsequent statements recognise that DPRK is at the crossroads of a momentous
decision between reforms and the unaltered status quo (p. 6). According to Lee,
Kim Jong Un is not the deranged tyrant he is often characterised as, but rather the
sharp leader of a bizarre nation (p. 7).
For Lee, the ruling class of DPRK is no more than an enormous drug cartel
wherein the rulers lived in luxury while the masses struggled for life and
livelihood. The book’s introduction sets the scene, portraying a country crippled
by the international sanctions yet in which the ruling Kim regime maintains power
by remaining on top of a bloated military with nuclear weapons, a corrupt elite
and corroded state institutions which vie for and balance power in DPRK.
Although Kim Jong Un plans to remove the sanctions impoverishing his nation
through peace overtures to the West, he remains unwilling to completely
denuclearise without major compromises from South Korea and the USA being
made first. Thus, the DPRK continues to rely on Chinese support to avoid the
worst of the sanctions (pp. 17–19). Yet, Lee argues that if the remaining few cards
are played well by Un, which includes a regime unhindered by regular elections,
a military with an expanding arsenal of nuclear and other weapons of mass
destruction which theoretically assures mutual destruction, a strategic position
near South Korea’s capital, and his sister, Kim Yo Jong’s diplomatic appearances
in the international arena, DPRK may yet have a chance at a thriving economy,
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
8(3) 433–441, 2021
© The Author(s) 2021
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23477970211039139

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