Kim Jong Un’s reign of fear: What’s next?

Written on December 17, 2013 by Waya Quiviger in Asia

la-oe-snyder-north-korea-jang-20131216-001When a political crisis hits Pyongyang, the leadership’s normal antidote is to hide the real drama in rumors and shadows while assuring the world that outside forces are no match for North Korea’s spirit of “single-hearted unity.” But North Korea’s real-time media coverage of the vituperative public denunciation and execution of Jang Song Taek, the uncle by marriage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has exposed deep divisions within the Kim family leadership and has shocked North Koreans and outsiders alike with its suddenness and its brutality.

By making this bold move to consolidate his power, Kim has shown great confidence. But Jang’s public humiliation and execution for, among other things, “half-heartedly clapping” for Kim at a party conclave, have likely bred fear and shock at every level of North Korean society. Under Kim Jong Il, the current leader’s late father, senior cadres (and especially family members) were sidelined but not executed. Jang’s execution broke this pattern.

The fear pervading North Korea is likely to further sap productivity, setting back the stated goal of achieving a strong and prosperous nation. The task of excavating the roots of Jang’s network of supporters will further weaken the resiliency of the regime.

The elimination of Jang also has ramifications for North Korea’s external relations. Jang was China’s best business partner among North Korea’s leadership and was one of the few elite North Koreans who seemed to grasp the importance of economic reforms. China was not directly implicated in the litany of Jang’s crimes, but the crime of selling North Korea’s natural resources too cheaply to foreign countries at the very least suggests that Kim Jong Un will demand a higher premium for its resources from China. Read more…

Published in the LA Times on December 16, 2013 http://www.latimes.com 


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