Kim Jong-un’s fragilityJang Song-thaek, North Korea’s No. 2 man and uncle to Kim Jong-un, was executed in an unusually public and hurried way. The dramatic event perfectly captured the reign of terror of the dynastic rule for three generations, and at the same time, the fragility of the fledgling Kim regime. State media reported that Jang, vice chairman of the paramount National Defense Commission, had confessed to multiple counts of felonies - including treason - by exploiting his authority over military and economic policies to steal power from his nephew. The execution took place only four days after Jang was publicly declared a traitor to the state at a Worker’s Party meeting. A U.S. State Department spokesman observed that the public execution of a member of the top political elite was “another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime.”
The brutal ousting would suggest both the young ruler’s need to consolidate his grip and the inherent vulnerability of inherited power. It may show that Kim felt so threatened and insecure about his single-man leadership that he had to resort to such an extreme measure against a member of his own family. In the seven-page report released by the Korean Central News Agency, Jang was said to have built a “little kingdom” of his own and was planning a military coup to overthrow his nephew. That also suggests a growing resentment of the third-generation leader among the party, military and government.
The announcement said Jang confessed he wanted to fan resentment in the military and society toward the government for failing to restore the crumbling economy or improve the poor state of the people’s lives. He wanted to ascend to power when the economy went totally bankrupt and the state was nearing collapse by concentrating resources in the divisions and economic institutions he had power over. It shows that even Jang had doubts about his own regime’s viability.
The young leader’s demonstration of the politics of terror may help him solidify his power by eliminating some immediate rivals. But it could be a prelude to a very bloody purge as Jang’s followers are estimated to reach 20,000 to 30,000. All of Kim’s hidden opponents aren’t likely to easily accept their defeat. Kim Jong-un’s extreme measures to strengthen his grip could only end up making his status more insecure. That is why most experts think Kim Jong-un has gambled too rashly. It appears that Kim is capable of doing anything to protect his blood crown. Our government must be very scrupulous and ready for possible drastic developments in North Korea.
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