Kim Jong-un delegating control to cabinet, diplomatic source says
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is not ruling by proxy, as suggested by South Korea’s spy agency, but is governing the country through his cabinet, according to a Western diplomatic source based in Beijing.
The source, who requested anonymity, said the phrase “rule by mandate” — used by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) to characterize recent changes to Kim’s governing style — created misunderstanding about the actual way in which the regime is being run.
The more likely explanation suggested by the source was that Kim was attempting to rule in a manner more akin to other executive branches around the world, delegating authority to members of his cabinet in their respective fields.
Kim’s younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, is responsible for foreign policy via-a-vis South Korea and the United States, the official said. Premier Kim Tok-hun and Central Committee Vice Chairman Pak Pong-ju are responsible for economic affairs and Central Military Commission (CMC) Vice Chairman Ri Pyong-chol and former security chief Gen. Choe Pu-il are overseeing the military.
By delegating both authority and responsibility to his closest deputies, Kim may be trying to steer North Korea’s transition to a “normal country,” departing from the one-man rule that characterized the regimes of his predecessors.
Kim Jong-il, the current leader’s father, for much of his early rule relied on the legacy left by his own father, the regime’s charismatic founder Kim Il Sung. In the latter part of his reign, the concept known as Songun, or a military-first policy, became prominent as Kim Jong-il became more reclusive and content with ruling through the country’s military.
With circumstances rapidly changing in his time, Kim Jong-un appears to have concluded that previous forms of governance that rely on propaganda and control over the party hierarchy may no longer be as effective to maintain authority.
The dictator in recent years has instead taken on much more of a populist image, with state media depicting him in the public's midst.
Kim’s decision in the aftermath of Typhoon Maysak last week to convene a ruling Workers’ Party expanded political bureau meeting in South Hamgyong, a badly damaged province, exemplified such a role. Kim sacked the party head of the province after around a thousand households were left homeless and vast tracks of farmland flooded as a result of the typhoon.
The leader further ordered over 10,000 party members in Pyongyang to assist the province in its recovery efforts, stressing he could not allow countless numbers of his people suffer ahead of the party’s 75th foundation anniversary this year, according to state media.
The source in China suggested Kim’s changing governance style also represented a major leadership transition process in Pyongyang. North Korea’s aging ruling elite, many of them members of Kim Il Sung’s generation, are being replaced by those who have made their bones developing the regime’s nuclear and missile programs, such as Ri Pyong-chol.
Kim may be attempting to delegate responsibilities to subordinates to mitigate — or at least redirect — the internal discord generated by this transition, the source said.
BY YOU SANG-CHUL, SHIM KYU-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]