Monday, December 9, 2013

What does purge say about North Korea's stability?

Some good food for thought on what is happening inside opaque north Korea.  No one can know for sure what is really happening but some of the analysis in this piece is useful to help us understand what might be going on.

9 December 2013 Last updated at 05:30 ET

What does purge say about North Korea's stability?

North Korea's second most powerful figure has been purged from the country's ruling elite. State media accused Chang Song-thaek of challenging the leadership of Kim Jong-un and forming a rival faction within the Workers' Party. He has been stripped of all his official positions and expelled from the party, but what does his very public expulsion say about the stability of North Korea's opaque political machine, asks the BBC's Lucy Williamson?
Few countries choreograph their political drama quite like North Korea. And after surviving for months on scraps of news and hearsay about the regime, analysts of the country's politics have been thrown a juicy steak.
Almost overnight, Chang Song-thaek has morphed from uncle and mentor to North Korea's young leader, to "anti-revolutionary" criminal outcast. He has been stripped of all official positions, edited out of official documentary footage, and his forcible removal from a party meeting, as well as his long list of alleged misdeeds and character faults have been broadcast on state media.
The detail of those charges alone has startled many people; the report on North Korea's state news agency runs to several pages.
"It's unique," an official at South Korea's Unification Ministry said. "We haven't seen this kind of official announcement in the past - the very detailed explanation seems like an attempt to provide legitimacy for its decision."
'John the Baptist'
Chief among Mr Chang's charges: that he had challenged his country's leadership, arrogated control of economic, judicial and security affairs to himself, and tried to form his own rival faction within the ruling Workers' Party.
It is the biggest political shake-up since the death of the country's former ruler Kim Jong-il two years ago. But North Korea's political reporting of itself is rarely transparent, so what might this unusual glimpse through the looking glass actually mean?
Some analysts believe it could signal restlessness within the ruling elite. As news first surfaced of Mr Chang's purge, Professor Victor Cha of Georgetown University warned that "there is a great deal more churn inside the North Korean system than is popularly depicted in the media, even though Kim appears in control".
"If you have to take out the top people," he says, "that's usually a sign that things are quite dynamic, because if they were going well you wouldn't need to."
South Korea's online news site DailyNK, which has sources inside North Korea, believes Mr Chang's removal highlights a rift over how to boost growth in the country, perhaps sparked by China's successful economic reform process.
It quotes an unnamed source as saying that Chang Song-thaek "had been pushing for Chinese-style 'reform and opening', not a partial opening" as wanted by Kim Jong-un. "What started with conflict between the two," the source says, "ended in Chang's downfall."
Others, though, believe there is little policy difference among the top levels of government.
Dr Paik Haksoon, of Seoul's Sejong Institute, says that if divisions among Pyongyang's elite were serious, the regime would not have publicised them in this way, nor resolved them as quickly. Instead, he says, Mr Chang's expulsion is more a sign that the young Kim Jong-un has outgrown his tutor.
"Chang Song-thaek had finished his role as a bridge between the past and the future," he said. "You can compare him to John the Baptist in the Bible - the man of the Old Testament who played a bridging role for the new era of Jesus Christ."
But that role, in shepherding North Korea's young leader through the transition of power, had unexpected consequences.
"The more people Chang attracted, the more powerful he became, and that was the challenge to Kim Jong-un," says Dr Paik. "Chang Song-thaek was such a big figure in North Korean politics that his removal demanded a long and detailed explanation on why he had to be expelled."
Even so what is surprising, says Dr John Delury of Yonsei University, is the acknowledgement by North Korea that "there are members of the Party, and the Kim family - people at the highest levels of government - who are deeply corrupt and disloyal. This level of admission about someone who until a month ago was right next to the leader - it is startling. And also a warning to others."
Read this way, Mr Chang's removal is another sign of Kim Jong-un's authority; the latest in a series of carefully calibrated moves to demonstrate his control, and his independence - from the former army chief, whom he purged last year; from China's leaders, whom he snubbed soon after taking power; and now from his closest advisor and confidante.
And that authority is being demonstrated, not just to a domestic audience, but an international one as well.
'Important barometer'
(Continued at the link below)

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