Monday, December 9, 2013

A major game changer in North Korea?

Kim Jong-un [right] with his now disgraced uncle in happier times.

There are recent reports today that North Korea's dynastic ruler, the Young General Kim Jong-un, has ousted his uncle, Jang Sŏngtaek, the powerful regent-like figure who seemed to have orchestrated his nephew's rise and solidification of power.

From the Los Angeles Times:
In a palace intrigue that could shake the foundations of North Korea, 30-year-old leader Kim Jong Un has purged from the leadership the powerful uncle who had been his de facto regent for the last two years, North Korean news media confirmed Monday.

Declaring that Jang Sung Taek was "soaked with the capitalist lifestyle," the Korea Central News Agency reported that he had been removed from all his posts and expelled from the governing Workers' Party. Jang, 67, had been seen as a moderating influence on the young Kim.

North Korean state news outlets said the political bureau of the Workers' Party met Saturday and "adopted a written decision to dismiss Jang from all of his positions and release him from the party." Kim reportedly attended the meeting.

South Korea's state spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, reported last week that Jang appeared to have been ousted from his position as vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, citing the recent public execution of two of his close confidants.
I guess Uncle Sŏngtaek should just be happy he's still alive (for now, at least). Indeed, as I was watching the first season of NBC's Revolution on Netflix the other day, I remarked to "M" that the arbitrary way in which the ruler of the Monroe Republic was executing those he's just a short time earlier thought were loyal followers had echoes of Pyongyang's palace intrigue. Throw in a bit of Hunger Games punishment of people outside the capital and a bit of starvation, and you've got the DPRK.

What does this all mean? Well, that all depends on why it happened and what Jang was really up to. Was he really a "moderating force," and if so moderating what exactly? If he was keeping the Western-educated Kim Jong-un from becoming his country's Deng Xiaoping (something I've suggested a few times now), maybe that moderating presence was a mitigating force that kept Kim Jong-un for going too far with Chinese-style reforms recommended by Beijing.

And if so, perhaps there's a bit of peresnorka in the country's future. Let's hope so.

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