Thursday, February 13, 2014

NORTH KOREA’S THEATER OF THE ABSURD AND THE NEW NUMBER TWO’S by Robert Collins

If you only read one article from me today please read this one especially if you want to understand north Korean leadership (And I will be sending out a lot of articles today on this snow day in between reading admissions applications)


Bob Collins is one of the foremost experts on north Korea and north Korean leadership.  Few have the access and expertise (and few can speak with north Koreans in their dialect as he can),  When Bob writes on north Korea it behooves us to pay attention.  I can guarantee that you can read what is written below in any classified analysis.  

This is in my opinion one of the most important essays to read on north Korean leadership.


North Korea’s Theater of the Absurd and the New Number Two's

NORTH KOREA’S THEATER OF THE ABSURD AND THE NEW NUMBER TWO’S

February 13, 2014 · in 
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It seems as though North Korea’s “number two candidates” are the star roles for the Kim Regime’s version of Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author.” Jang Song-thaek’s recent execution has raised a number of questions about the Kim Family Regime: What drives these purges? What do they mean? What do they say about the stability of the regime and how it functions?  These are all the right questions, but most of the analysis out there is not providing the right answers.
The North Korean regime’s theater of the absurd has been illustrated, most recently, by the execution of Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of leader Kim Jong-Un. Jang’s execution has left much of the world’s political pundits dumbfounded as to the “why,” “how,” and “what’s next.”  The international media’s speculation on wild stories such as Jang being executed by hungry dogs ripping him apart or Jang sleeping with Kim Jong-un’s wife only added to the surrealism surrounding this episode of Al Capone-like justice. Even Jang’s relatives – sister, brother in-law, nephew and their sons, daughters and grandchildren – have been put to death.  In the North Korean legal system, whole families must suffer the fate of the criminal, especially when the crime is against the Kim Regime.
Because of the level of Jang’s abuse of power and the threat he posed to Kim Jong-un’s authority, Jang’s execution was by far the most critical event to date since Kim Jong-un replaced his father as the North Korean leader. The dramatic removal of Jang from positions of power, including Vice-Chairman of the National Defense Commission, Director of the Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee’s Administration Department, and administrator of some of North Korea’s most productive foreign currency earning operations (FCEO), created a political oversight vacuum within most of those agencies.  The charges against Jang were “stacked” with the accusations covering the areas of economic, political, ethical and even the whimsical, such as not clapping hard enough for the Kim family.  But much of this was fictional scriptwriting of which even Eugene Ionesco would be proud.
The Downfall of Jang Song-thaek
The story of Jang’s downfall requires some understanding of the North Korean socio-political system, which places maximum emphasis on personal and institutional surveillance and loyalty. As such, it is very difficult to create independent organizations – social, political, “factions,” or otherwise – that support individuals other than the supreme leader, or political agendas other than those of the party and the supreme leader.  Therefore, individuals of influence develop “lines” of personal contacts and supporters who become their “men” or “network of influence” who then manipulate institutions for their political and/or economic gain.   Jang, because of his connection to the Kim Family as husband of Kim Jong-un’s aunt, came close to establishing his own power base and certainly developed an extensive line of supporters.
Using this influence, Jang committed perhaps the greatest crime a member of the North Korean elite can commit: he made a profit and did not give the regime a cut.  Paying into the supreme leader’s “revolutionary funds” is an absolute requirement for all FCEOs. Jang’s control of a wide number of foreign currency-earning organizations enabled him to accumulate one billion dollars, which were deposited in the Bank of Shanghai.  Kim Jong-un wanted access to these funds but Jang’s men – primarily Administration Department 1st Vice-Director Ri Yong-ha and Vice-Director Jang Su-gil – mishandled the money to the point that the Chinese government shut down the account.  In December 2013, Jang confessed his crimes before a military tribunal. He was branded a “traitor for all ages” and executed shortly thereafter.
The Bank of Shanghai episode was Jang’s last rodeo, but unbeknownst to many observers, it wasn’t his first. For Kim Jong-un and others, this was likely the last straw in Jang’s long history of abusing his authority, a history that reveals much about the opaque North Korean regime.
From Transgressor to Strongman: Jang’s “Revolutionary Re-Education”
Indeed, throughout his career, Jang Song-thaek frequently overstepped his bounds, bringing trouble down on those close to him.  As husband to the princess of the empire, he was spared many deserved punishments.  However, before his execution, Jang in fact twice received “revolutionary reeducation” for bad behavior. Such “re-education” is a common form of punishment within the Kim regime, if the sentence is not death or banishment to a political prison death camp. The transgressor is sent down to the common worker’s level to learn the lessons of the revolution through hard labor. As early as the 1970’s, Jang was accused of starting a “secret party” and sent to a work in a regional factory.  And in 2004, he was accused of “factional activities” and prevented from working altogether, a form of house arrest.
After returning from his second “revolutionization” experience in 2007, Jang was actually rewarded by his brother-in-law, Kim Jong-il, with an appointment as Director of the very influential Administration Department (AD) of the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP).  At the time, the KWP Administration Department was part of the KWP’s Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), an institution expanded in power and influence under Kim Jong-il to the point of it being referred to by party bureaucrats as the “party within the party.”  The OGD’s primary responsibility is maintaining the stability of the regime by requiring loyalty from every North Korean, with a focus on the elite. Only the elite of the elite and the most loyal of the most loyal are permitted to work in the OGD.  Concurrent with Jang’s appointment to the AD, Kim Jong-il separated that department from the OGD, thus creating natural barriers between the two organizations.
The mission of Jang’s AD was political oversight (not command) of the State Security Department (North Korea’s secret police), the Ministry of Public Security (national police force), the courts, the judges, the prosecutors, and the lawyers.  The Administration Department also oversaw a significant number of FCEO’s (though it does not do so not any longer).  In other words, Jang had political watch over of the regime’s internal security apparatus and significant profit-making operations, a very powerful position indeed. The AD has subordinate offices down at the provincial (9), separate city, and county (145) levels.  These offices are integral to the party committees at those levels.  From those subordinate offices, Jang was able to influence the party-state’s internal security and FCEO’s at the micro level.  The combination of those two authorities is what got Jang in trouble for abusing of power.  Everybody that worked for Jang in the KWP AD at each of its levels had been able to leverage their influence for self-aggrandizement. Now, many of those officials will pay severely for their choice of loyalty.
Reporting from a North Korean refugees’ organization suggests that in April 2011, Kim Jong-il gave Jang even more power by appointing him to oversee several FCEO’s.  One of those was Department 54 of the General Political Bureau., which was responsible for manufacturing or acquiring soldier equipment and clothing.  Jang then promoted Department 54 Director, Jang Su-kil (no known relation), to be one of his close aides as a vice director within the AD.  Jang Su-kil, Administration Department 1st Vice Director, Ri Yong-ha, the party secretary of Department 54, and the Political Department Director of the Ministry of Public Security (national police) were known to become Jang Song-thaek’s three closest subordinates.
Then, however, the Department 54 party secretary began reporting secretly to the General Political Bureau (the military’s political commissar organization headed by Vice-Marshal Choi Ryong-hae) about Jang Song-thaek’s corruption and the General Political Bureau reported this directly to Kim Jong-un.  Jang once again miscalculated his influence and power and the effectiveness of his subordinates.  Consequently, the purging process began, with Jang Su-kil and Ri Yong-ha being the first two to be executed. The execution of Jang himself, of course, followed shortly thereafter.
The Aftermath of Jang’s Execution
(Continued at the link below)

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