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News In-depth: North Korea's reshuffle strengthens control over military

Updated: 2014-05-09 20:43:48 KST
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More winds of change are blowing through Pyongyang.
The North Korean regime has a new number two under Kim Jong-un.
For a look at what the reshuffle may mean, we welcome in our unification ministry correspondent Hwang Sung-hee to the studio.

Sung-hee, Kim Jong-un recently promoted Hwang Pyong-so, who is now the second most powerful figure withint the regime. It's his THIRD number two since December. Is this another sign of possible instability within the regime?

Not quite.
When Kim Jong-un executed his uncle Jang Song-taek six months ago, there was speculation of a power struggle within the regime.
But there haven't been any signs of such an internal strife since then.
Instead, the rise of Hwang Pyong-so as North Korea's new military politburo chief is being seen as a continuation of Kim Jong-un's attempts to solidify the party's control over the military.


"If Choe Ryong-hae established the basis of Kim Jong-un's control of the military among the higher ranks, it seems Hwang Pyong-so was appointed to spread this ideology to the lower ranks of the military."

The military politburo chief oversees the political and philosophical affairs of the military in a regime where ideology reigns supreme.
Hwang's career has been with the Workers' Party of Korea, meaning he is a former party official, not a military man.
That's noteworthy since Hwang has been appointed as the military's highest-ranking link to the party.
So going back to your question, Hwang's appointment is likely intended to help the regime gain better control over the military, not as a response to instability within the regime.

It's inescapable that we would compare Kim Jong-un to his father and grandfather, and compared to them, he seems much more impulsive when it comes to personnel changes. Why is that?

Given North Korea's history and Kim Jong-un's age, he could realistically rule for another 30 to 40 years.
Personnel changes are common in dictatorships, and it's important to remember that the young leader is still in the early stages of creating a "Kim Jong-un-style" North Korea.
Officials appointed to key posts by the young Kim, like Military Politburo Chief Hwang Pyong-so, Defense Minister Jang Jong-nam and Chief of Staff Ri Yong-gil are in their 50s or 60s, much younger than their predecessors.


"With the elimination of former figures within the Kim Jong-il era and the rise of new figures, Kim Jong-un is creating a new structure of people that he will have direct control over."

Reshuffles have been much more frequent under the Kim Jong-un regime.
We could pin that on the impulsiveness of a young dictator, but we must also take his late father Kim Jong-il's so-called Sungun -- or military-first -- politics into account .
Back then, the military held all the power.
The young Kim is attempting to rebalance this, appointing officials to posts in the government, party and military, and giving them a certain degree of power and responsibility relevant to their positions.

Another notable personnel change is the regime's new foreign minister. Is there any expectation of a shift in foreign policy under his watch?

New Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong is an interesting figure, because he is believed to have been close to Jang Song-taek.
Most of Jang's close aides fell from power, but Ri was one of the exceptions, actually being promoted to a higher rank.
Ri was a long-time North Korean Ambassador to Switzerland and reportedly took care of Kim Jong-un when he attended school there from 1998 to 2000.
Experts say Ri was likely promoted because of his special relationship with the young leader or because North Korea wants to improve ties with Europe.
If it's the latter, the contacts Ri established during his years of service in Switzerland will be useful in North Korea's attempts at attracting investment from Europe.

The shake-up comes amid heightening tensions on the Korean peninsula. Will these personnel changes affect Pyongyang's cross-border policies?

Any clues about that would come from personnel changes in North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission or the United Front Department, which handle cross-border affairs.
The heads of both departments remain intact, and another key post that has a role in cross-border ties would be North Korea's Red Cross, and there have been no significant changes there either.
Experts say, for now, North Korea's nuclear test is the biggest factor that could jeopardize inter-Korean relations.

Thank you, Sung-hee for your report.


Reporter : ssung86@arirang.co.kr

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fatboyme (USA) 2014-05-09    

What a mess.