Behind every great fortune is a crime – French novelist Honoré de Balzac

Jho Low, the plump pirate better known in select criminal circles as Felonious, was entertained by the joke and, as always, delighted in his friend’s masterly grasp of understatement. 

He’d just read that Fearless Leader, once a Malaysian Premier, had revealed to the Kuala Lumpur High Court that he had “only RM4.5 million in assets.” 

Politicians from every component party of the National Front government were moved. They knew the real root of all evil was a lack of money. 

But most people weren’t politicians, they were more cynical and distrustful and generally seemed unbelieving.  Fearless felt injured. “You think you’ve got problems?” snarled Malaysia’s once-most-powerful man. “What about me?”

It was a good, if pointless, question. Ever since 2014 amid the gradual revelations, the whispered rumours, and the increasing awareness of the gravity of the 1MDB problem, Fearless had had to deny, evade, duck, prevaricate, obfuscate or simply lie to Parliament and the Malaysian people about the matter.  

That takes a lot of nerve, an epidermis of no mean thickness and, surely, much heart-hammering amid the blood pressure of a giraffe. And, lest we forget, he had to return home to daily karaoke (Girls just wanna have funds) and occasional counsel (Can I advise you something?).

The extent of Fearless’ pre-emptive efforts to distance himself from 1MDB are slowly emerging. On Thursday, an anti-corruption agency officer testified that Fearless amended a 2016 audit report on 1MDB that was to be presented to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee “to shield himself from legal consequences.”  

And what do you think he felt every time he attended an international meeting after 2016, after the US’ Department of Justice had made sure the 1MDB scandal had made the world’s headliners, when the magnitude of the fiasco was becoming clear?  

Are they giving me the cold shoulder and ignoring me, or am I imagining it? 

Oh My God, is that a knowing look in Lee’s eyes? 

It must have been a time to try anyone’s soul and Felonious sympathised because he knew the extent of the heist. Neither did he feel any remorse about the matter. In fact, he’d recently offered RM1.5 billion to Putrajaya to forget the whole thing but the ingrates had declined.

As for those who accused him of burdening future generations with debt, he charitably forgave them as they did not know it was condoned. Didn’t the Bible say, “Blessed are the children for they will inherit the national debt?”

Felonious considered himself a principled man because, principally, there were only two rules governing crime and Rule 1 was unambiguous: never get caught. 

The second, which he was particularly proud of, simply referred the seeker of knowledge to Rule 1.  

Fearless considered his friend’s position neither here nor there and thought it cold comfort. Meanwhile, his defence team anguished over his RM4.5 million “revelation” because they’d been calculating their bill. 

And so it goes. And, in this instance, only the Bamboo River remains.

Still, silent, waiting.



The surprising thing about young fools is how many survive to become old fools – Doug Larsen, US newspaper columnist 

The older he gets, the better he thinks he was. 

It would be ludicrous for anyone to suggest as much but, at 97, Dr Mahathir Mohamad seems convinced that he remains Malaysia’s future.

On Thursday, the former premier announced a new Malay-Muslim coalition, the Gerakan Tanah Air, or GTA, which “is… a bid to change the government.”

His motives were clearer the day earlier. Then, he said the new coalition was necessary “if we want to save our country, our nation, our religion.” 

Dr Mahathir should be clear. Who, or what, is threatening the country and Islam? 

Indeed, the question of any threat to the Malays or Islam must be aimed at the Malays themselves because they control all the levers of government and, by virtue of that, well-nigh everything else if they had a mind to.  

The monarchy is exclusively Malay while the civil service, the armed forces and the police are overwhelmingly Malay. Even the majority of elected legislators are Malay with a good many in opposition, which only illustrates democracy at work. Even the courts are Malay-dominated.

So, what’s Doc talking about?

I also find it seriously depressing to hear the same, tired rhetoric 65 years after independence. Can’t he come up with better cliches? 

Has he stopped to consider that his statements might be considered indifferent at best, and insulting at worst, to a large number of Malaysians? 

It  presupposes that the country is of, by and for the Malays. Full stop. It appears that, to his mind, the remaining 36%, or 11.5  million people don’t, or should not,  matter. 

Actually, like many Malaysians, I know that the nation faces at least two serious threats. 

They are, however, not vague or irresolute. These are the real and palpable threats of dishonesty and corruption that will destroy Malaysia if not checked. 

We find it fashionable, no, convenient to dismiss Singapore, to denigrate its achievements because, well, it’s “small.”   

But why is there so little corruption there, a fact acknowledged by international bodies?   Because, there, the law is strictly enforced and everyone knows it. Would-be criminals know retribution will follow and that’s been key.

In Malaysia, unfortunately, tolerance of corruption has been widespread for a long time, but it felt like – or we liked to think it was – small potatoes. Now, like fissures spreading out from an earthquake, mini-1MDBs seem to be breaking out.

The latest is the Littoral Combat Vessel disaster where we learn that the government has spent RM6 billion on naval vessels for the country’s defence needs but has “nothing to show for it” despite eight years having passed. 

We’re told that both the Ministry of Defence and private firm Boustead had “ignored” the Navy’s views on the matter. 

That no one’s screaming with indignation or baying for blood only reinforces the notion that we are corruption-tolerant or, at least, resigned to it. 

The other threat is the creeping use of religion and race to justify crime. When it is said it’s OK to vote for a corrupt person because he is of a certain religion, danger is truly everywhere, and we should head for the hills.  

Now if the old man could tilt against said threats and not at windmills, I’ll begin listening.



It was in Vietnam where I discovered Google Translate wasn’t just necessary but desirable.  

I was in Ha Long, a picturesque, Unesco-recognised hamlet jutting into the Gulf of Tonkin and located 165 kilometres northeast of Hanoi. 

It was where we’d driven from. Rebecca was there to attend a four-day APEC Business Advisory Council meet, one of which was in Hanoi and the rest, further north. I had no business being there but, then again, I’d never been to North Vietnam. 

Indeed, there I was in the Royal Ha Long Resort – never knew they’d had 

a monarch – where I was basically at a loose end. The TV had all the news channels, an interesting cooking channel: Gok Wan on perfect Chinese fried rice is always riveting. But I drew the line at Eastwood and Freeman conversing tersely in Vietnamese in an otherwise gripping Unforgiven. 

A perusal of the hotel’s brochure revealed there was a gymnasium on the 3rd floor. It seemed a good idea. 

You stepped out on the 3rd floor and turned right to face a glass door that opened into an outdoor gym. 

But Ha Long in July is an anything-up-to-38-degrees kind of dry heat that one associates with heat stroke. It was 11.45 in the morning and the gym was doing its best to imitate a sauna. 

I was approached by a youth who addressed me in questioning Vietnamese. Meeting incomprehension, he thrust a mobile phone at me and telegraphed “type”.

Idiot that I was, it took me a full 30 seconds to cotton on. Then I typed “Aircon?”

He read the translation, nodded and rushed out.

In a few minutes, I heard a hum but felt no change, the gym remained implacably full-throttle Sahara. 

“Give it time,” he counselled, via his phone and he was right. It was fine in 15 minutes. 

Google Translate is the glue that holds tourism together in Ha Long. You used it for well-nigh everything because very few locals spoke the language. 

But they were eager, no, desperate to learn. Vietnam, we learned, is a country with very big ambitions and goals, one of which is becoming the next China.  Learning English, apparently, is one of its many prescribed routes. 

It’s led to considerable injustice, a comment delivered to us with some heat by the resort’s manager, a likable Swiss who used to run KL’s Mandarin Oriental and now efficiently manages the resort with “a little Vietnamese and plenty of sign language.”  

He told us how Western backpackers from Europe pass themselves off as “English teachers just because they are white.” English teachers get as much as $US1,000 a month which is a “King’s ransom” in the country. 

“I’ve met some and they’re rubbish,” he snorts, “but with that kind of money, it’s paradise here.” 

Even so, Vietnam seems to know what it’s doing. The country’s economy is already the third largest in the region and it’s expanding fast, growing 7% during 2022’s first half. This from a country that’s recovered from three major wars and only really started growing in the 1990s.

They are already huge in agriculture and, thanks to Trump’s sanctions on China, have been one of the biggest beneficiaries of US investment out of China. More importantly, it knows where it’s going. 

At a farewell dinner hosted by the resort’s owner, the head of the region’s Communist chapter told us that “we will be a high income nation by 2045.” It didn’t sound like an idle boast. 

We should be so lucky. 



I was never ruined but twice: once when I lost a lawsuit and once when I won one. – Voltaire, French author, playwright and humanist 

Malaysia is belatedly realising that the law’s outcomes can be hugely expensive. 

Early this year, an arbitration court in Paris awarded the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu a staggering US$14.92 billion (over RM69 billion) against the Malaysian government.

How did this come to pass? 

Its antecedents date back to 1878 and an agreement between the then Sultan of Sulu, one Baron de Overbeck (then Maharaja of Sabah) and the British North Borneo Trading Company’s Alfred Dent. 

The Sultan agreed to cede large tracts of land in Sabah to the company for an annual fee. The agreement also stipulated that the payment would be continued by future heirs. Indeed, the British continued the payments until 1963. 

The year saw the creation of the Federation of Malaysia with Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore joining Malaya to form a new country. The point here is that, in 1963, Malaysia’s new federal government continued the annual RM5,300 payment to the Sulu Sultan’s heirs. Indeed, it was maintained in unbroken fashion until 2013. 

During the year, over 200 Filipino militants “invaded” Sabah by way of Lahad Datu to claim the land in the name of the Sultan of Sulu. In the event, the gang surrendered but not before 16 Malaysians lost their lives. 

In seeming retaliation, the Malaysian government, then headed by Najib Razak stopped the annual payments to the Sultan’s heirs. But Kuala Lumpur had maintained those payments for 49 years, an unbroken stretch that seemed to presume a legal obligation on its part.   

It isn’t clear if Najib sought legal advice at the time. The Attorney General then was Gani Patail, a Lahad Datu native himself and a person who’d already been AG for eleven years. 

Nothing happened for four years until, sometime in 2017, the Sulu heirs suddenly took the matter to arbitration in Europe.

Why wait for four years? It had to be money. It was US lawyer Jonathan Sturges who famously quipped that “justice is open to everyone in the same way as the Ritz Hotel.” 

The quip was made in the early 1800s and it rings even more true now. According to Britain’s The Financial Times, “the heirs, backed by a London law firm, have been bankrolled by a UK investment fund, Therium, in a litigation process that has now cost in excess of US$10 million.”

Clearly, the sharks had sensed the blood in the water. Unfortunately, Putrajaya hadn’t. 

Indeed, the Najib administration ignored the matter altogether. The heirs, their lawyers and Therium, smelling money in the air, didn’t.   

Putrajaya is now awake to the danger: the Malaysian  government may have assets in at least 165 countries and many of them are at risk of  seizure. It is  moving to set aside the award. 

It will be long and expensive, alas. And a lesson in the perils of retaliation. 



You only lie to two people in your life, your girlfriend and the police – Jack Nicholson in Chinatown 

The Economist doesn’t mince its words. 

In an op-ed piece headlined “The toxicity of Boris Johnson,” it talked of a deadly toxin menacing “ministers and their party” and “chairing their meetings.” Apparently, Bojo was not only a toxin but a “serial liar,”  

No one should be surprised. As a rule, aren’t all politicians less than sparing with the truth? Donald Trump played so fast and loose with the truth that he even attempted the Big Lie: in the face of massive evidence to the contrary, he claimed that he’d won the 2020 Presidential elections. He still does.

And there are some segments of American society that believe him!

“You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free,” goes a famous Biblical saying. Not in Malaysia though. Instead, the truth made Fatboy flee, and Fearless Leader want to. This was, of course, after the results of Malaysia’s 2018 general election made it plain that their jig was up.  

Now Fearless is behaving as if Grand National Theft has been legalised, while the cheerfully flabby Felonious is apparently, attempting to “settle” with the Malaysian government, if recent news on an online news portal is to be believed.  

“The only statistics you can trust are those you falsified yourself,” observed Winston Churchill. Dr Mahathir was clearly a student of Churchill. Consider how he lauded the “success” of his heavy industrial projects of steel (Perwaja) and autos (Proton). 

The amount of money both projects cost the taxpayer is unclear, but they must surely run into the tens of billions. 

Dr M professed distaste for Anwar Ibrahim’s “moral misconduct” and it was the stated reason for sacking him as deputy premier in 1998. 

But the same distaste wasn’t evident a couple of years ago when Azmin Ali, Dr M’s blue-eyed boy then, was caught in a similar circumstance. 

Different strokes for different folks, it seems, is an acceptable hypocrisy in politics.

Fearless himself lied through his teeth between 2014 and 2018 every time he was questioned over 1MDB in Parliament. 

Everything was hunky dory with the agency, he assured Parliament. And no, Felonious had nothing whatsoever to do with the agency, he had no role in the company and that was the absolute truth, so help him God.  

His story changed after he was charged in court in 2018. Then, everything was the fault of Felonious. Or the directors. Or Goldman Sachs. Or the Arabs.

But not him. Never him. How could it be him? He’d been too busy being PM. 

He continues the fiction now. Unashamedly, would be the word to describe how he carries it off. Shameless, unblushing, unembarrassed, and brazen are others. 

Actually, Fearless comes across as the quintessential Umno politician.  Having deprived the Malaysian Treasury of more than the monies awarded to the heirs of Sultan of Sulu (RM69 billion), he continues to swagger about the Malaysian political stage as if he were a potential premier.

He’s got a snowflake’s chance in hell. 




Some fellows get credit for being conservative when they are only stupid – Journalist Frank Hubbard

Mr Hubbard might have been thinking about Malaysia when he voiced the thought. But as Napoleon observed: “In politics stupidity isn’t a handicap.”

Take Hadi Awang’s latest outburst. The Pas’ leader, whose exact function in government remains unclear, recently likened advocates of the English language to people “trapped in a colonial mindset.”

No one could ever accuse the fire-and-brimstone politician of being on nodding terms with the language. He probably takes pride in his avowed “nationalism,” a proven inability to get around Enid Blyton.

Two of the biggest advocates for English in Malaysia are Dr Mahathir and Rafidah Aziz, people even Hadi would hesitate to label as pro-colonial or less than patriotic. 

Indeed, the recent government push for Bahasa Malaysia at the expense of English is folly of the highest order.

Let us be blunt. Why do the Malays constitute the bulk of unemployed graduates in the country? It’s because they are only fluent in Bahasa Malaysia, which makes then only capable of getting a government job. The Chinese don’t have a problem as they are generally proficient in Mandarin which is a marketable skill.

The policy will only hurt the poorer Malay population because well-off Malays generally ensure their children are proficient in English.  

Indeed, the children of ministers and well-off Malays are almost always educated abroad because they are loath to allow their children to be sent to government schools or universities. They know only too well its suspect quality.

It is a tragedy of the highest order that our nation has descended to this. People of my generation, of all races, had a superb education because government schools had capable faculty. My English teacher in high school didn’t even have a degree but he was Kirby-trained and equipped all of us more than adequately.

Indeed, the two Chinese schools in Seremban were in danger of dying out altogether in the 1960s and 70s as more and more Chinese parents began to send their kids to the “English” schools of King George V and St Paul’s Institution because of their supposedly better faculty.

The Chinese schools only bounced back after the government instituted the shift to Bahasa Malaysia. It is a fact that even Dr Mahathir has admitted with some chagrin.  

The irony of it all is that Malaysia deliberately shot itself in the foot. Singapore, on the other hand, never changed its education policies and so remains a centre of educational excellence.

The average English teacher of today is woefully inept in comparison to his Kirby-trained counterpart of the 1960s. This situation will only get worse over time as less and less skilled university faculty replace the present lot. 

Globally, English is the most widely spoken language in the world with over 1.4 billion users. Native English speakers only number 345 million. Standout indicator: the easiest job to get in China is as an English teacher.

English is the language of diplomacy and despite our PM’s insistence, the language of Asean. 

The light of the language is slowly but surely flickering out in Malaysia. Do not let it be extinguished through benighted policy. 



Veteran oppositionist, Lim Kit Siang, has called on the Cabinet to freeze all increases in salaries and allowances in government-linked companies (GLCs) until the economy recovers.

This comes after FGV Holdings,, which is 80% owned by the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda), agreed to increase its chairman’s annual allowance from RM300,000 to RM480,000 at its annual general meeting yesterday.

The hike came into effect yesterday. Meanwhile, the six board directors’ also saw their allowances increase from RM120,000 to RM150,000 a year. 

Most people would not even know of these proposals were it not for a social media post that went viral. The commentator, who wrote the post in Bahasa Malaysia, was grimly sarcastic about these pay increases at a time of   economic uncertainty amid steeply rising living costs. 

It appears that Lim was following up on the apparently popular rant.  

Even so, the government seems oblivious to the situation because no one, least of all in Putrajaya, has uttered a word about GLC salaries or anything connected to the economic situation.

Actually, our leaders  have said very little about anything meaningful which, given the economic climate, makes me believe that things will get a lot worse before it gets worse.

Indeed, I suspect  that’s the main fear of people: they worry that their leaders don’t  know what’s going on, and they believe they wouldn’t know what to do even if they did.

What are they all thinking  about anyway?

Messrs Najib and Zahid aren’t worried about the cost of living; they note that despite its increasing cost, it remains popular. 

They both think an early general election, preferably sometime around now,  will see a resounding victory by the National Front. This will somehow get them off  their respective  legal hooks. The exactly how is unclear but whoever is the premier after the election will presumably provide the answer.

For that reason, it appears that the current incumbent is quite happy with the status quo and sees no reason for an early general election. Dr M and most of the country is happy with this proposition. 

All the Finance Minister seems interested in is to be a candidate in said general election. It’s a wish that he telegraphs with increasing urgency to Umno and to the general public which, quite frankly, doesn’t give a hoot.  

All the Islamic Party, or Pas,  cares about is an electoral pact with Umno, without which, it will be soundly  thrashed in the election. It also worries about increasing national immorality which it defines as the morality of anyone having fun.

Tajudin, the boorish MP for Pasir Salak is so mightily chuffed with his ambassadorial appointment to Jakarta that he’s graciously forgiven his critics. They haven’t though and continue to assert his only credentials are idiocy veering on buffoonery.

Meanwhile, Nazri still hankers for a posting in Paris while sulkily insisting that floods in Malaysia could be the next big thing for tourism in the country. In fairness, no one’s ever accused him of sound reasoning in any shape or form.  

Now you know why everyone should worry.



If it’s true that our species is alone in the universe,  then I’d have to say the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little – Comedian George Carlin

Just when you think things could not get more absurd in this fantastic country of ours, it does. 

Hours after a march for “judicial independence” got thwarted by the police, an Umno Supreme Councillor wondered if the same lawyers would march to demand “justice for Najib.” 

Najib is the nation’s First Felon, a former premier who has been convicted by two concurrent courts of abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering in relation to 42  million ringgit of money that belonged to the government. He only awaits one more appeal and if that fails, he has to serve time.

But these first charges are chicken feed, the lull before the storm. He is also accused of the largest theft in human history and awaits two more trials, one of which involves the theft of billions from lMDB, a government agency he created ostensibly to help develop Malaysia.  

In one sense, Dr Puad Zakashi, the Umno personage calling for justice for Najib is right. We also think that justice should be  expedited for the former premier. 

Instead, here we have the spectacle of the courts, and well-nigh everybody else, giving him the maximum leeway, stretching the adage of “presumed innocent until proven guilty” to its breaking point. 

In countries like Japan, a nation which highly values  honour, bail isn’t a right but a privilege. 

And yet, in this country, Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy premier, was denied bail for six years for a crime that isn’t even criminal in developed countries. 

But consider the following where Najib is concerned: having been convicted by two concurrent courts, he still enjoys police protection, outriders and all the trappings of power; he is allowed to lead political campaigns and isn’t shy about splashing his wealth around; he is encouraged  to address political gatherings like the recent National Front convention where he declared, to rousing  applause, “I’m not a thief, I was only accused of laundering funds that I did not employ.”

It’s not even a good try. 

This is the legal definition of criminal breach of trust, for which he was found  guilty by two courts. 

“Whoever, being in any manner entrusted with property, or with any dominion over property, either solely or jointly with any other person, dishonestly misappropriates, or converts to his own use, that property, or dishonestly uses or disposes of that property in violation of any direction of law prescribing the mode in …”

How much clearer does he want it to get?

There is more. 

He gets invited to the palace for dinner with our King and Queen. 

Everywhere he goes, he is lauded as “our boss who need not feel any shame.”

When he tweets that he loves trains, MRT Corp immediately invites him and his family on the maiden journey of its  Putrajaya line.

What gives? Are these the values we are asked to pass on to our children? 

And what’s with the silence from the religious right, the same ones who see red over Bon Odori, who wax  apoplectic  over the attire of our airline stewardesses? 

What, no comment on Bossku? 

By all means, let’s march to demand justice for Malaysians.




We were in Langkawi over the weekend and there’s something about the island that the rest of Malaysia might do well to emulate. 

We saw little, or no,  migrant labour, with locals doing everything from manning the hotels and waiting the tables to driving taxis – lots of female drivers, too – and working as guides. They were polite and, if you could speak reasonable Bahasa, were a lovely lot, always eager to help.   

There isn’t a trace of Pas’ influence on the island and thank Heaven for that. By way of explanation, the chief minister of Kedah state, where Langkawi is located, is  from the Islamic Party of Malaysia, or Pas, which frowns on anything that’s remotely connected to joy or feelings of good cheer.  

We went to Bon Ton for dinner one night to hear Joy Victor front a jazz band so smoking that  the appreciative  crowd of wall-to-wall Caucasians were besides themselves in rapture. But Norelle, the beanpole Aussie owner of the establishment, told me they were all “locals.” Norelle herself had  been in the country for over twenty seven years. 

In our party that night was a South American  Ambassador who’d taken up his assignment two years ago and seemed fascinated with all things Malaysian. 

But it was a comment he  made that struck, and quietened, us.  

He said before he arrived, the picture he’d envisaged of Malaysia was that of a Third World Southeast Asian developing economy. Not quite Singapore but not Somalia either. Which, if you think about it, isn’t far off the mark. 

Then he landed and as his embassy’s car rolled towards Kuala Lumpur, he began asking the same question: “Where are the shanty towns?”

These were the unmistakable  signs of urban blight, the slums indelibly associated with developing economies the world over, from Rio to Delhi, from Manila to Jakarta. 

“My mother came down recently,” he told us. “And she asked the same question. Your country is fantastic and I don’t see what all the Malaysians I meet are constantly bitching about?” 

I do because I’m in my sixties and I remember. 

I remember having a leader like Hussein Onn who set great store on honesty which struck me as very impressive then. Yet I remember later assessments  of his tenure being denigrated as slow and indecisive. Would that we still had that, rather than the grandiose megaprojects, the massive debt and the corruption that would characterise later leaders. 

In the 70s, I remember attending a local university that was ranked higher in quality than its peer in Singapore, a time when our educational excellence was right up there with the best of them, a period when standards mattered, when English was taken matter-of- factly and not treated as some dirty word.  

“Patriotism,” wrote Samuel Johnson, “is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” That is self- evident in today’s Malaysia. In the name of nationalism, merit is shunned, corruption is tolerated if not quite extolled and smart people migrate the first chance they get. They don’t want to because what’s not to love about this country, but they see a future where they are not wanted. But most don’t have a choice. 

If we are honest with ourselves, the signs of decay are everywhere. Potholes aren’t fixed, the water supply keeps breaking down. It’s scary the way the local colleges turn out graduates that are unemployable. It’s what happens when you drop standards and ignore merit. 

Meanwhile, a resigned population accepts everything thrown at them because we have learned to live with third-best. 

That’s what we’re bitching about Mr Ambassador. 



Did you know that the United Nations actually has a disarmament conference that meets regularly. That’s a bad enough oxymoron but it gets worse. Its current chair is North Korea which has more nuclear weapons than it has food to feed its people. 

Much like  most things in life, it occurred through happenstance; the chair goes by alphabetical rotation and the N’s had been coming up.

Needless to say, Pyongyang took to its new role with its usual tact. “My country is still at war with the United States,” declared Pyongyang’s ambassador, Han Tae-Song with the characteristic belligerence all North Korean diplomats are trained to display at multilateral meetings. 

The country is ruled by Kim Jong-un, a rotund rascal who routinely suffered bad hair days which he blamed on the US because its sanctions were making it impossible for his people to get good shampoo. In fact, the dumpy despot was sick and tired of shampoo and insisted that the United Nations get  him the real poo. 

The people of North Korea were so poor they couldn’t even pay attention but they admired the fortitude with which the moneyed Kim tolerated the disadvantages of his wealth.

The ample autocrat adored the good things in life and his larder was full of the good stuff,  groaning under the weight of delectable Parmar hams, wheels of robust Roquefort’s, enough sweet Persian figs and the choicest French wines. “Nothing succeeds like excess,” he told himself cheerfully while prescribing his people patience with kimchi on the side. 

Kim felt he had governed his country with skill and great leadership not seen in Asia since Hideki Tojo, a Japanese politician who’d urged his country into the Second World War and a true visionary in Kim’s eyes. 

In Tojo-like fashion, the tubby tyrant had built up his country’s military might into Herculean proportions. Its arsenals bulged with nukes, missiles, ICBMs and enough guns to force the President of the National Rifle Association to take a knee in covetous admiration. 

North Korea  was armed to the teeth and continually reminded its neighbours that it was by carrying out various weapon tests on every which weapon but the pea-shooter. 

It isn’t even clear why.

After all, it was North Korea, then under Kim’s grandfather,  which began the Korean War of l950 when it invaded its southern neighbour although it was clear that the war was principally directed from Moscow and Beijing.  

UN troops supported South Korea and backed by US air power, finally drove the invasion back to the borders we see today.

Seventy years after the war, South Korea has grown, according to Wikipedia, more than 55 times richer than its northern neighbour in terms of nominal gross domestic product. Meanwhile, almost a thousand North Koreans defect to the South every year while the numbers of those who die trying are  unknown. 

These statistics alone should give the tubby totalitarian pause but the grandson of the man who started the Korean War still seems more interested in beefing up his military than in making life better for his people. 

Meanwhile, North Korea is now being  tasked with chairing the world’s foremost multilateral disarmament forum. 

There goes the neighbourhood.