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, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid