In the News – North Korea names Kim Jong Eun ‘marshal’ of the military

Aside

In the News – North Korea names Kim Jong Eun ‘marshal’ of the military

 

BEIJING — North Korea on Wednesday named its young leader, Kim Jong Eun, “marshal” of the military, a preeminent job title that analysts say is designed to reinforce his absolute power and warn off members of senior elites who might question it.

The title appears redundant, because Kim already served as the military’s supreme commander. But the timing of the announcement is significant, outside experts say, coming just two days after the North dismissed a top army leader — perceived hard-liner Ri Yong Ho — and perhaps doubling as a message about Kim’s willingness to shape the 1.2 million-strong military as he sees fit.

What Kim will do with the military remains a fiercely debated question in Seoul and Washington. The issue also holds deep implications for an impoverished country of 24 million that channels its scant resources toward weapons and nuclear technology.

In power for seven months now, Kim has given no clear sign that he will de-emphasize the military or push for the economic reforms that his father and grandfather long resisted. But some experts see a pattern emerging as Kim shuffles the military leadership: He sidelines hard-liners and replaces them with Workers’ Party bureaucrats — precisely the group that had been marginalized under the military-first policy of his father, Kim Jong Il.

“It’s clear there is an internal conflict between the royal family and the military,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea analyst at Seoul’s Kookmin University. He said Kim Jong Eun, joined by his powerful aunt and uncle, has aligned himself with top Workers’ Party members and is “dressing them up in military uniforms.”

Still, Lankov and others cautioned that the changes might not indicate an actual policy shift.

“We tend to believe the military might be hard-liners and party members are technocrats,” Lankov said. “That might indicate a more relaxed policy line, but it’s too early to say. Because people usually fight not over ideas — they fight over yachts and nice houses.”

Since Kim Jong Il’s death in December, North Korea has offered the outside world conflicting evidence that a shift is underway.

The government infuriated its neighbors by launching a rocket, but it also admitted to its own people, in a rare moment of transparency, that the launch had proved a dud. Kim Jong Eun gave two public speeches — something his reclusive father never did — but used them mostly to recite familiar slogans about military power. New apartments are rising in Pyongyang, but recent visitors to the country speak of 19th-century conditions in the vast rural areas — mostly barren land, where oxen are the primary mode of transport.

The picture of Kim’s intentions could become clearer in coming months, analysts say, now that he has his own team of leaders in place. The surprising dismissal of Ri on Monday was attributed to “illness” by the North’s state media, but outside experts interpreted the move as a firing. By booting a senior official whom his father had appointed to oversee the hereditary power transfer, Kim Jong Eun “kicked off the training wheels,” Scott Snyder, of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a blog post.

“I see the dismissal of Ri as the last step of a military shuffle,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea researcher at the Sejong Institute in Seoul. “There is a possibility that Ri had resisted the party’s control over the military.”

Some of the most notable shuffling happened in April at a major national conference. Aside from Kim, who was given a handful of the supreme titles held by his father and grandfather, the clear winner was Choe Ryong Hae, a mid-level bureaucrat who emerged with across-the-board power that brought him into the Kim family’s inner circle.

Choe was also named a vice marshal in the military, unprecedented for a civilian in the ­military-first era, according to Luke Herman, a North Korea leadership expert.

Even before Wednesday’s announcement, there was little reason to doubt Kim’s No. 1 position in military, analysts say. But he officially still held the rank of general, which technically left him below a handful of “vice marshals,” including Ri.

“The whole issue just shows that although Kim Jong Eun is very young, he is eager to prove that he is no longer the puppet controlled by some senior minister reigning behind the curtain,” said Zhu Feng, of Peking University’s School of International Studies. “He’s able to establish his absolute authority in the system and has capacity to govern the country directly.”

Only Kim’s father and grandfather have held military ranks higher than marshal. Founder Kim Il Sung was named generalissimo in 1992, and Kim Jong Il was awarded the title posthumously.

 

Original Article 

Advertisements

“Normal” North Korea

Often times, when we think of North Korea, we have an image of people with grim faces and lifeless eyes walking through a drab city full of grey tones. We think of these people as mere puppets of the North Korean government putting on shows for the foreign tourists with a forced smile on their faces. They become part of the picture we paint in our minds of starving children and prisoners. How often do we actually think of these people as just people who have daily lives just like you and I do? Granted, our lifestyles may be extremely different. But the fact that they have lives separate from the one we imagine them to have is very true. Dr. Andrei Lankov addresses this in his article in The Korea Times.

For those of you who do not know who Andrei Lankov is, let me offer you a brief introduction. Dr. Andrei Lankov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and is now a renowned specialist in Korean studies. In 1985, he even spent some time studying at Kim Il Sung University of North Korea. In 2004, he moved to South Korea to teach at Kookmin University, which is where he remains today. He is one of the few foreigners in South Korea who can offer a scholarly perspective on North Korean issues. If you follow North Korean news and issues, you have probably come across his name quite a few times.

In his article “Normal North Korea,” Dr. Lankov talks about his experience of visiting North Korea in September of 1984. As he first drove through the streets of Pyongyang, he explains that what he saw was quite unexpected. Russia at the time was by no means a democratic state but was far more open and “permissive” than North Korea was. Therefore, having come from Russia, he had expected North Korea to look like a scene from George Orwell’s book 1984, which is ironic considering the year of his visit. He explains it as follows: Continue reading

In the News – Who Is Kim Jong Un’s Mystery Woman?

Aside

In the News – Who Is Kim Jong Un’s Mystery Woman?

Sister? Lover? Girlfriend? Wife? Speculation is mounting over the identity of a mystery woman and the nature of her relationship with Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader of North Korea, with whom she has been spotted on a number of public engagements. The short-haired woman, dressed smartly in a black suit, is thought to be in her 20s.

The South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo speculates that the woman may be his sister, Kim Yeo Jong. “Born in 1987, Yeo Jong is now in her mid-20s,” an article posted on its website read. “She apparently went to a school in Switzerland along with Jong Un in the 1990s.”

However, South Korean intelligence experts have identified the woman as Hyon Song Wol, the former front woman of the Bochonbo Electronic Music Band and a married mother whom they believe is having an affair with the North Korean leader.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the Bochonbo Electronic Music Band produced several hit singles that were “hugely popular among the North Korean masses,” but Hyon “disappeared from public view at the time that Mr. Kim emerged as the heir-apparent to his father Kim Jong Il.” Hyon reappeared in public to perform at a concert in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, in early March to mark International Women’s Day.

Rumors of the affair have reportedly been circulating for some time. Kim Jong Un is believed to have begun a romance with the singer a decade ago, but was forced to end the relationship by his father. She is then said to have married a North Korean army officer and given birth to his child. Nothing is known of the current whereabouts of Hyon’s husband and child, or whether she even remains married.

However, others speculate that the woman is in fact Kim Jong Un’s wife, a view shared by Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in South Korea, an expert on North Korea, who thinks it highly implausible that the Supreme Leader would so publicly reveal his girlfriend. He told CNN that her presence is likely a part of a carefully constructed campaign to appear “much more approachable, humanlike and soft on people” in order to distance Kim Jong Un from his father and predecessor.

Lankov added that Kim Jong Un “travels much more than his father and even [more] than his grandfather. He likes to hug everybody, physically hug. In this regard it’s probable he decided that it might be a good idea to hint that he does have a wife.” If the woman is his wife, then it would mark a significant departure to the secrecy with which his father and grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, cloaked their personal lives. Lankov noted, “When his grandfather’s first wife, if you like, the founding mother of the dynasty, was alive, her name was never, never mentioned in media. Her existence was never even hinted at.”

Likewise, Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Waseda University in Tokyo and author of a number of publications on North Korean leadership, told the Daily Telegraph, “It is highly possible that this is his wife and that Kim is trying to show a new style of leadership, of a husband and wife, in North Korea.” Shigemura also observed that Kim Jong Un had been uncharacteristically quiet in the weeks leading up to the woman’s sudden appearance.

Earlier this year he engaged in a large number of high-profile appearances, in an attempt to shore up his position as North Korea’s new leader, following the death of his father in December. It is possible, Shigemura said, that his recent silence could be the result of behind-the-scenes preparations concerning how to publicly introduce his spouse.

The mystery woman was first seen with Kim Jong Un watching a performance of North Korea’s Moranbong band at a theater in Pyongyang on Friday. (The performance included the appearance of various Disney characters, which the Walt Disney Co. confirms were used without its permission.) On Sunday, North Korean state TV showed the woman standing beside the Supreme Leader during a ceremony to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the death of his grandfather.

Original Article

In the News – Worth it? Failed launch costs North Korea food aid

Aside

In the News – Worth it? Failed launch costs North Korea food aid

The U.S. will not go forward with planned food aid for North Korea after the nation’s unsuccessful attempt to launch a long-range missile rocket, the White House said.

“Despite the failure of its attempted missile launch, North Korea’s provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments,” the White House said in a statement condemning the launch.

President Obama has been prepared to engage with North Korea in a constructive manner, the statement said, but he also insists that the country live up to its earlier commitments and international obligations.

North Korea’s much-anticipated rocket launch ended quickly in failure early Friday, splintering into pieces over the Yellow Sea soon after takeoff. Continue reading