- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2011

The head of a leading news service covering North Korea is predicting that the ruling communist regime is headed for the dustbin of history — and soon.

“North Korea will collapse, of course, but the question is how long it might take,” Park In-ho, president of the Seoul-based Daily NK, told The Washington Times. “Within five years, 70 percent chance. But within 10 years? 100 percent.”

His confidence stems from the North Korean regime’s plunging popular support, its lack of funds and its loss of diplomatic support — including from former sponsor China, he said.

Mr. Park called the coming transfer of power from Kim Jong-il to son Kim Jong-uhn a “time of danger” for the North Korean state.

His assessment echoes a growing consensus among South Korean officialdom that the regime in Pyongyang, now in its sixth decade, is living on borrowed time.

President Lee Myung-bak said in June that the collapse of the North Korean state — and the resulting reunification of the peninsula — would come like “a thief in the middle of the night.”

In February 2010, according to a WikiLeaks cable, his national security adviser, Chun Yung-woo, said that North Korea “had already collapsed economically, and would collapse politically two to three years after the death of Kim Jong Il.”

But the prediction carries special weight coming from Mr. Park, whose news service has since its 2004 founding managed to penetrate the world’s most secretive society through its extensive network of North Korean sources — a group that includes defectors, visitors to China and the few North Koreans with cellphones.

The online journal has had its fair share of scoops: In late 2009, it broke the news of North Korea’s currency reform, and in 2005, it released the first footage of a public execution.

But Mr. Park argued that Daily NK’s most valuable work is yet to come, explaining that its ability to get news out of North Korea quickly would assume new importance should the regime face a popular revolt.

“When the Libyan uprising occurred, the international community thought and pondered and fiddled while Rome burned,” he said. “If an event happens in North Korea, it’s very important to make a decision and do something as quickly as possible because there won’t be time.”

Mr. Park conceded there are “various possibilities” for North Korea’s demise: “Unfortunately, the chances of it being entirely peaceful, such as Nelson Mandela in South Africa, are zero percent. That doesn’t mean there’ll be a war, but some kind of incident will be required to make regime change happen.”

The Daily NK reports on all things North Korean, from the lives of ordinary citizens to the travels of Kim Jong-il.

“In the beginning when we made those reports, the South Korean intelligence services called us and said, ‘Is this real? How do you know?’ and so on. But now they don’t call because they just believe it,” Mr. Park said.

• Ben Birnbaum can be reached at 138247@example.com.

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