Path for Pyongyang

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Path for Pyongyang

The reshuffle of high-ranking officials in North Korea this week is aimed at paving the way for the Kim Jong-un regime. National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il appointed his third son, Jong-un, as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, the No. 2 post in the regime. The idea is to create an environment that will allow other top party officials to support Kim Jong-un’s rise to power.

Kim Jong-il intends to consolidate Jong-un’s status in the Workers’ Party. He also wants to reestablish the strength of the party by elevating the status of certain officials. Examples of this strategy include the appointments of Prime Minister Choi Young-lim and high-ranking military official Lee Young-ho to the Politburo and First Deputy Secretary of the National Defense Commission Chang Seong-taek to the Central Military Commission.

Through this shake up, North Korea might be able to maintain political stability. But the moves won’t play a big role ensuring a smooth transition to the Kim Jong-un regime, no matter how well the reshuffle may work down the road. It’s hard, after all, to solve the country’s severe problems - including its food shortage - simply by shaking up the leadership structure solely for political reasons.

Last October, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that over a third of the North Korean population is suffering from starvation due to severe food shortages. North Korean media are also stressing the importance of food security, dubbing it “the greatest challenge for our country.” In 1962, Kim Il Sung promised to feed each one of his people with a bowl of rice and a bowl of meat soup, to no avail. Now his grandchild will attempt to do the same. But it’s an impossible mission until North Korea joins the international community, which it must do as soon as possible.

In this regard, Kim Jong-il’s decision to appoint economic bureaucrats such as Hong Sok-hyung, Tae Jong-soo and Kim Pyung-hae to key positions in the Politburo and Workers’ Party draws our attention. The promotion of former First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Sok-ju, an expert in diplomacy with the U.S., to vice prime minister and Politburo member is also noteworthy. We hope the country will follow up these superficial moves with real action, as the key to the country’s future - and Kim Jong-un’s legacy - relies on normalizing relations with the U.S. and the rest of the world.

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