Kim consolidates his one-man ruleJang Song-thaek, the powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was likely sacked from his post as vice chairman of the paramount National Defense Commission, according to our intelligence agencies. Jang had been deeply involved in helping settle the fledgling regime of Kim Jong-un - the twenty-something heir to his father Kim Jong-il - even before the supreme leader died two years ago.
The unexpected fall of Jang, if proven true, testifies to the weakness - and uniqueness - of the rouge state’s political systems based on dictatorship. The stunning development can be summed up as a last-ditch effort to complete Kim’s monolithic rule after a series of purges of big wigs in the Workers’ Party, government and military over the past two years. Kim has chosen his uncle Jang, the protector, as his last prey in his relentless pursuit of power in the recalcitrant regime.
The demise of Jang, however, is not likely to lead to the insecurity of the oppressive regime. Despite cruel political purges as seen during the transitional periods after Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994 and Kim Jong-il’s in 2011, no individual or group has defied the hereditary power succession.
Still, there’s a possibility that discontent will spread to the ruling class in Pyongyang, which may cause the North to ratchet up its rhetoric and actions toward the South in a move to divert internal conflicts to the outside. We saw the evidence in Kim’s bold push for nuclear tests and the unilateral shutdown of the Kaesong Industrial Complex - the last-remaining vestige of inter-Korean economic exchange - and irrational provocations against South Korea and America over the last couple of years.
At the same time, however, Kim’s drive to consolidate his one-man rule could also lead to drastic reform. In fact, he flaunts diverse attempts to show off his penchant for revisionism. In contrast to his father’s intermittent attempts to push forward with reform, he has consistently expanded the scope of reform. Without an unflinching commitment to nuclear disarmament, however, he can hardly expect any tangible results from his reform push, although a few North Korea experts cautiously point to some positive, albeit meager, signs for economic betterment in the secluded country.
As North Korea is on the verge of breaking out of its two-year-old transitional period thanks to the consolidation of a system of “one-man rule,” our government must review and polish its policies on the reclusive state.
It is time to find the best possible ways to upgrade South-North relations for a better future.