News / Asia

Report: North Korea Finalizes Power Transition

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (File)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (File)
SEOUL — A just-released independent, non-government report on North Korea concludes the transfer of power to Kim Jong Un is already complete. And, the report by the International Crisis Group predicts prospects for reform in the impoverished country are dim and the young leader could well be around for decades, with a growing nuclear arsenal.

The International Crisis Group in a report released Wednesday says despite this month's removal of a top military figure, there are no clear signs of any conspiracy to overthrow North Korea's new, young leader.

In recent days, South Korean and other media reports have quoted unnamed sources suggesting a power struggle may be underway in Pyongyang.

One report claims there was a gun battle amid the removal of vice marshal Ri Yong Ho. And, a Seoul newspaper Dong-A Ilbo says Ri, who was also chief of the army's general staff, was ousted after being heard on a wiretap criticizing Kim's plan to open the reclusive country.

The lead author of the ICG report, senior analyst  Daniel Pinkston says that Kim's father invested considerable effort to ensure his son would assume power securely.

"Kim Jong Un has a firm grip on power despite the purging of vice marshal Ri Yong Ho very recently. And, I believe the barrier to any collection action against Kim Jong Un and the Kim family regime is formidable. And, we don't see any significant policy changes in the near future," he said.

Senior political and military officials in Pyongyang are believed to be overseeing lucrative businesses in the state-controlled economy. Pinkston says some are earning "excessive and extensive profits" and Kim needs to walk a fine line between extending opportunities to a new coalition of supporters, while keeping some on board from his father's generation.

"You can imagine the fights or infighting over property rights and access to resources. And, that very well could have happened with Ri Yong Ho. Maybe Kim Jong Un and Ri had argued over resources or how they were going to be allocated or what kind of businesses Ri might have been operating in," he said. "Or, he might have gotten greedy and tried to skim off extra funds."

Pinkston and other analysts note speculation about disagreement on policy direction or even an outright power struggle, but no concrete evidence has emerged.

Some analysts counsel caution about reaching conclusions, including on whether North Korea is poised to reform, amid a dearth of first-hand information.

The ICG report concludes "reform prospects are dim." Pinkston says the scant evidence that has emerged from Pyongyang does not back up assertions such change is beginning.

"Simple change does not mean reform. Reform, in my view, means changing governance, changing the institutions, relying more upon markets for resource allocation. It means moving more towards the rule of law, empowering enterprises and people so that they can act in the market and engage in entrepreneurial activities. We don't see any of that going on in North Korea yet," he said.

One Western intelligence source tells VOA there are no indications of fundamental change, but interesting events are taking place in Pyongyang on nearly a "day-to-day basis." These include shuffling of high-ranking personnel and moves to further bolster the image of the inexperienced supreme leader, as well as renewed harsh criticism of South Korea's president.

One major concern in the intelligence community is whether Pyongyang is focused on internal matters or will again try to create an external crisis - such as a military provocation, a missile test cloaked as a satellite launch or even another underground nuclear detonation - to bolster Kim Jong Un.

"If the leadership - and Kim Jong Un in particular - perceives those around him as viewing him as being weak and he feels the need to demonstrate some kind of power, military prowess, then they could try to engage in some kind of military provocation. And, they might do that if they believe it could influence the presidential election here in South Korea in a way that would favor them," Pinkston said.

South Koreans go to the polls in December to replace President Lee Myung-bak who is limited to a single five-year term. Seoul has no diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.
North Korea has firmly been in the grip of one family since Kim Il Sung, the current  leader's grandfather, was installed by Russia in 1945.

The ICG report says, without the resources to sustain a conventional arms race, the current leader, believed to be 29 years old, will need to rely on nuclear weapons and other asymmetric capabilities for the security of his country.

North Korea has carried out two atomic tests and analysts say it has a long-term program to build an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Five-Nation Tour to Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of state will visit Egypt, Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam to discuss security issues, Iran nuclear deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs