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Why a North Korean Spring Will Never Happen

May 8, 2014 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

It doesn’t pay to be number two in North Korea. In December, the young dictator Kim Jong-un executed his uncle, Jang Song-taek, supposedly Kim’s top advisor. Now Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, who climbed atop Jang’s corpse, has been relieved of his important positions. At least Choe is still alive, apparently left about where he started, as a functionary running labor groups.

Choe’s fall is particularly important, because though he was an aide to Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, he rose rapidly under the younger Kim. In contrast, Jang was installed by Kim pere as a mentor or guardian for the “Great Successor.” So was Jang’s wife and the older Kim’s sister, Kim Kyong-hui, who remains alive but apparently has lost her authority. The third “mentor” appointed by the older Kim, Army chief of staff Ri Yong-ho, was removed in July 2012.

By defenestrating his father’s appointees Kim Jong-un eliminated constraints imposed on him. Dumping Choe reshapes the political environment of Kim’s making. Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so has taken over Choe’s army post, but he may be drinking from a poisoned chalice.

Going home should be the foundation of U.S. policy toward the Koreas.”

Choe’s ouster appears to answer the question: who is in charge? Jang’s fate was striking because it was so out of character for the regime—a public execution of a top official and family member which required admitting factionalism under the faultless leader. Thus, some observers theorized that killing Jang was a desperate step to rebuff a serious bid for power or a forced step to pacify influential political forces, such as the military.

However, there is no evidence of further internal strife since December. Now the next powerful figure, who seemingly gained the most from Jang’s removal, has fallen. Looking back, Jang’s execution may have been Kim’s way of demonstrating that even family ties offered no protection for insufficient loyalty to Number One. Choe’s removal may be a coda, that there will be no more Jangs with enough power to consider challenging Number One.

While Kim’s dominance in Pyongyang does not guarantee the regime’s survival, it dampens hope for any change outside of Kim. Today’s Korean Winter isn’t likely to give way to a Korean Spring. No one who values his life is likely to question the status quo.

Moreover, nothing suggests that the amazing resilience of the North’s communist monarchy is about to give way. Indeed, the elite, at least, is …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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