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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid