Props to The Western Confucian for finding and countering this column in the Financial Times: "N Korea is More Confucian Cult than rogue state.", which gives us this wildly unhelpful line:
No. North Korea is not Confucian. It is obviously and fundamentally Legalist. I am very aware (thanks to this article by Victoria Hui - PDF!) that, after Han times, the ruling ideology of China, for most of its dynasties, was a combination of Confucian principles and Legalist penal codes, "Confucianism on the outside and Legalism on the inside." But this combination always held within it the Mencian notion of "Mandate of Heaven," which suggests that tyrants who abuse their power lose their legitimate claim to kingly authority and, thus, tyrannicide is not regicide. In modern terms this would imply a kind of moral limit on tyrannical abuses of power, something that seems wholly alien to the unvarnished and brutal Legalism of the North Korean regime.
Therefore, North Korea comes nowhere close to "Confucianism on the outside, Legalism on the inside." It is a purer more repressive Legalism with only the faintest Confucian overtones.
But the FT goes on:
Kim Il-sung, the Great Leader and first absolute ruler, “brainwashed his countrymen into worshipping him as a god”, Madeleine Albright, former US secretary of state, writes in her memoirs. His son, today’s Dear Leader, has carried on that personality cult. North Koreans still wear “Eternal Leader” badges, sing songs in praise of Kim Jong-il, and even tend to their Kimjongilia, a hybrid begonia created by a doting botanist. State propaganda plays on Confucian traditions, alluding to his “mandate of heaven”.
Whatever allusion this may be, it is mere rhetorical frill. Why would people obey the government of North Korea? It may have legitimacy in the eyes of some North Koreans because of the nationalist narrative it puts forth: it defends the country from the American threat. There is nothing much Confucian about that. Moreover, for many other North Koreans obedience is simply a matter of survival. To challenge or resist the state is to run the risk of death or privation. People are not "brainwashed," they simply have no choice. And that sort of repression is certainly not what Confucius had in mind in the Analects. He wanted to minimize appeals to law and punishment:
The Master said: "If you use government to show them the Way and punishment to keep them true, the people will grow evasive and lose all remorse. But if you use Integrity to show them the Way and Ritual to keep them true, they'll cultivate remorse and always see deeply into things. (2.3)
When North Korea gives moves away from punishment, then we can call it Confucian.