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'Kim’s boldness presages more provocations'

Publication Date : 28-01-2014


The execution of Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, hints at the “boldness” of the fledgling ruler, which could lead to more provocative and unpredictable actions in the future, a recent US congressional report said.

In the report, titled “North Korea: US relations, nuclear diplomacy and internal situation,” the Congressional Research Service also said that internal unrest might break out following the demise of Jang, once dubbed the North’s No. 2 man.

“The chilling effect on the elite in Pyongyang could lead to internal unrest as those who considered themselves secure look for reassurance from other potential power bases,” the report said.

Jang, the husband of Kim’s only aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, was executed last December for plotting to overthrow the regime. After the execution, Pyongyang is thought to have purged a number of Jang’s associates in the ruling Workers’ Party, military and other state organs.

Experts here have presented mixed opinions on the meaning of Jang’s downfall. Some said the execution underscored the still-weak leadership of the third-generation dynastic ruler, thought to be in his early 30s.

Others, however, argued that the purge of Jang, one of the core mentors to the inexperienced ruler, spoke volumes about Kim’s increased confidence in the management of state affairs.

After his father Kim Jong-il’s death in December 2011, the Swiss-educated leader took the helm of the impoverished state. While his father spent about two decades preparing for the leadership post, the current ruler had only several years of grooming, which triggered concerns over the stability of the dictatorial regime.

Replacing top officials in all sectors of society with staunch loyalists through purges and other measures, Kim has tightened his control over the ruling elites. But the dictator has yet to shore up the moribund economy, which could become a source of instability, analysts said.

The CRS report also pointed out that the opaque nature of the North Korean regime, coupled with a lack of credible information about the country, poses a “daunting” challenge to the Washington government.

“Little is known about the young, new leader and the policymaking system in Pyongyang. US policymakers face a daunting challenge in navigating a course toward a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue,” it said.

Reunification of the two Koreas under stable democratic rule would be in line with the US interests, the CRS report noted, saying “the road to that result appears fraught with risks.”

“If the Pyongyang regime falls due to internal or external forces, the potential for major strategic consequences (including competition for control of the North’s nuclear arsenal) and a massive humanitarian crisis, not to mention long-term economic and social repercussions, looms large,” it said.

Pundits said that Washington’s biggest concern lies in the unpredictable North’s handling of its weapons of mass destruction including nuclear arms, which pose security concerns to its mainland as well as its allies in the region.

The US has long been striving to prevent the voluntary or involuntary transfer by a failing or failed regime in Pyongyang of nuclear materials and other WMDs to non-state organizations like terrorist groups or other extremists.


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