Tag Archive | "succession"

Ri Yong Ho Out: North Korean Leadership in Sickness or in Health?

By Nicholas Hamisevicz

The surprise news to start the week is that Vice Marshall Ri Yong Ho, chief of the general staff of North Korea’s army as well as a member of the Political Bureau and the Central Military Commission, was relieved of all his positions due to “illness.” During the last year of Kim Jong-il’s life, Ri Yong Ho was seen as a key advisor to Kim Jong-un during the transition. Following the death of Kim Jong-il, Ri Yong Ho was a leader to watch as he appeared to be a close confidant and guardian for Kim Jong-un in his new role as leader of North Korea. Now, as with almost all of the leadership moves that occur during this initial transition phase under Kim Jong-un, the removal of Ri Yong Ho will be analyzed and scrutinized to better understand the leadership style of Kim Jong-un, the actual power players in the new regime, and the role of the military.

Many decisions coming from Pyongyang often bring about more questions than answers; this news is no different. With Ri Yong Ho having now been removed, the critical questions will be how Kim Jong-un and key leaders in the regime will control the military and where will Kim Jong-un gets his military advice?  These questions will play a crucial role in future North Korean interaction with its neighbors and the United States.

The statement from KCNA about Ri Yong Ho being relieved of his duties due to illness initially suggests a purge. If so, it is likely he had fallen out of favor. Evidence to support this theory would be that he did not get many new positions in April during the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and National Defense Commission (NDC) meetings.

Vice Marshall Ri being purged because of corruption could also be a possibility. The North Korean Leadership Watch blog notes that “illness” “can be a party center euphemism for insubordination or corruption.” Being at the axis of three important power bases in the military, the Party’s Central Military Commission, and the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, would provide Ri Yong Ho quality access, influence, and power where corruption, or damaging high-profile corruption, could be a temptation.

Lastly, though less likely, “illness” could simply mean illness. North Korea Leadership Watch again noticed Ri Yong Ho looking like his health was declining and making fewer public appearances.  Although 70 is not that old by North Korean leadership standards, the overall average age of North Korean leaders has been declining since 2008; therefore, there could still be a slight possibility Ri Yong Ho is actually sick, or it is time for him to retire.

Yet a purge is still the most likely scenario. Ri was on the opposite side of Kim Jong-il’s hearse from Kim Jong-un and was viewed as an advisor for the young leader. His sudden removal could signal trouble in the transition or an acceptable switch to a new group of leaders.

One of the suggestions is that Ri Yong Ho wasn’t in favor of deploying military resources for infrastructure projects. Interestingly, the very next article on the KCNA website is about Kim Jong-un sending a message of thanks to a unit of North Korea’s internal security forces for working on construction projects. The article also described Kim Jong-un as “Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army,” as opposed to the previous article about Kim Jong-un visiting a kindergarten, where the title used for him is “first secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.” A July 14 KCNA article describes Kim Jong-un having his photo taken with “exemplary soldiers of the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces who performed labor feats in major construction projects.” Ri Yong Ho was not listed among the other leaders present.

If it is a purge, Ri Yong Ho’s removal because of disagreement over the proper use of military troops or any other policy will be felt internally. Externally, the removal of Ri Yong Ho for whatever reason also creates a question of where Kim Jong-un will get his military advice. An answer will likely emerge from North Korea’s relationship with South Korea and the United States, especially as the two countries move into the heated final stretch of their respective presidential campaign seasons.

Provocations from North Korea during this transition time have been a concern for both the U.S. and South Korea, especially while the prospect of a nuclear test continues to linger after the failed missile launch. Without Ri Yong Ho’s military advice, which leader with actual military experience, not just being given the title of general, will Kim Jong-un turn to? Will his new group of advisors be able to properly calculate threats and provocations with South Korea and avoid mishandling a potentially stronger response from South Korea to a major attack on its soil or interests? However, internally, we will have to wait to see the impact of his removal. Ri Yong Ho’s “illness” has made Kim Jong-un’s transition even more interesting, and once again, has left us with more questions than answers on North Korea.

Nicholas Hamisevicz is the Director of Research and Academic Affairs for the Korea Economic Institute. The views represented here are his own.

Posted in North Korea, sliderComments (3)

The Eternally Present and Future Leadership in North Korea

By Nicholas Hamisevicz

There was an interesting contrast last week on the Korean peninsula as South Koreans went to the polls to democratically elect members for its National Assembly; conversely, North Korea had two meetings to put into place its new leadership structure. Unlike in South Korea where the results were difficult to predict, in North Korea, the predicted outcome occurred with Kim Jong-un being formally given titles to lead the party and the military. The promotions last week offer some possible ideas on leaders that could be significant under this new regime. There were also a few statements and actions suggesting that some in the North Korean leadership know they are not where they need to be as a country. However, prior statements by North Korean leaders indicating reforms could be in the offing have been followed by either the failure to follow through or actions which undercut the prospect of reform. Whatever policies and actions come out of North Korea from now on, they will be associated with Kim Jong-un and this new leadership.

With the Fourth Conference of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and the Supreme People’s Assembly meetings last week in North Korea, Kim Jong-un was officially given titles to run the Party and the military. Moreover, Kim Jong-il now has two posthumous titles, Eternal General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and Eternal Chairman of the National Defense Commission (NDC). With these new titles for Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un had to settle for First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and First Chairman of the National Defense Commission. He also was named Chairman of the Central Military Commission. KCNA reports noting that decisions were made regarding revising Party rules and the Constitution of the DPRK suggest these documents now reflect these new titles and connections to leadership positions within North Korea, with Kim Jong-un at the head of the Party and military.

The family connections are very important in North Korea, especially for Kim Jong-un. The similarity in physical appearance between Kim Jong-un and his grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, have already been noted. Furthermore, many of the phrases in KCNA about the transition to Kim Jong-un are saying these moves are occurring “true to the behest of leader Kim Jong Il.” These connections are important and necessary for Kim Jong-un’s survival.

Kim Jong-un’s living family connections will be significant as well. His aunt and uncle, Kim Kyong Hui and Jang Song Taek, are seen as vital players in the new leadership. Jang Song Taek joins his wife in the Political Bureau of the WPK, and Kim Kyong Hui got another position in the Party as a secretary in the Secretariat. The key factor will be if Jang Song Taek and Kim Kyong Hui work to help Kim Jong-un and protect him or if they will use their position and influence with their nephew to manipulate power to address their own desired policies.

Beyond Kim Jong-un’s family, a few new leaders are beginning to emerge in the upper elite of North Korean leadership. Announced the day before the Workers’ Party Conference, Choe Ryong Hae was promoted to Vice Marshall in the North Korean Army. The next day he was named Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission. After the Supreme People’s Assembly, he received a position as a member of the NDC.  As a relatively young leader at 61, Choe’s rise should be watched closely. In fact, Choe Ryong Hae has been listed ahead of Ri Yong Ho in at least three recent KCNA articles. Vice Marshal Ri is a Vice Chairman on the NDC and has often been seen next to Kim Jong-un during his visits and meetings.

Kim Jong Gak was also promoted to the Minister of the People’s Armed Forces. Replacing Kim Yong Chun, Kim Jong Gak is seen as another rising power player and was one of the men walking next to the car carrying Kim Jong-il during the funeral. He was promoted to Vice Marshal in the Korean People’s Army in February 2012, and it has been rumored that he might be one of the people tutoring Kim Jong-un on how to use Party mechanisms to control the military.

In addition to these moves, North Korean leaders made a couple short statements suggesting they understand North Korea is not as developed as other countries in the world. Choe Yong Rim, Premier of North Korea, stated in front of the Supreme People’s Assembly: “It is the most important target of the struggle set by the WPK for this year to bring about a signal improvement in the people’s standard of living.” Kim Jong-un was also recently quoted as saying: “It is the firm resolution of the Workers’ Party of Korea to enable our people, the best people in the world who have remained loyal to the party, overcoming all difficulties, to live, without tightening their belts any longer, and fully enjoy wealth and prosperity under socialism.” However, there are numerous quotes in the past from North Korean leaders suggesting a desire to reform and change. It will be the actual actions this new leadership takes that will matter, rather than statements that could be possibly made to sound good for and gain benefits from the international community.

The new leadership announced last week can no longer hide. The big public events in North Korea following the death of Kim Jong-il and connected with the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birthday are now over. Both the February 29, 2012 deal between North Korea and the United States and the missile launch both seemed to have started under Kim Jong-il. As much as Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are eternally present in North Korea, decisions and actions from now on will be connected with Kim Jong-un and this new leadership.

Nicholas Hamisevicz is the Director of Research and Academic Affairs for the Korea Economic Institute. The views represented here are his own.

Photo from Joseph A. Ferris III’s photo stream on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in North Korea, sliderComments (0)

North Korean Workers Party Leadership Chart

By Luke Herman

North Korea recently held a series of meetings to formalize leadership positions in the new regime. Kim Jong-il was named the Eternal Secretary General, while Kim Jong-un became the party’s First Secretary. Here is an updated Workers Party of Korea leadership chart.



Posted in North Korea, sliderComments (0)

The Eternal General Secretary Makes Way for Other Political Changes in North Korea

By Nicholas Hamisevicz

After holding its Fourth Conference of the Workers’ Party of Korea, North Korea now has an eternal president and an eternal general secretary. Kim Jong-il was named Eternal General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), and Kim Jong-un was given the title of First Secretary of the WPK. These initial changes and those suspected to come in the next few days will give some indications on how North Korea will try to structure its leadership under Kim Jong-un.

After his death, it was likely that North Korea would try to honor Kim Jong-il in some way. The Kim family lineage being an important aspect of the young Kim Jong-un’s power, it was anticipated that Kim Jong-il would be given a special recognition along the lines of Kim Il-sung. There were some predictions that Kim Jong-il would be given an eternal title in connection with the National Defense Commission (NDC). Now with Kim Jong-il posthumously given the title of Eternal General Secretary, it will be interesting to see if this move further indicates a renewed emphasis leadership on the Party instead of the military.

For Kim Jong-un, he officially becomes head of the party through the new position of first secretary. After the death of Kim Jong-il, North Korean media labeled Kim Jong-un as head of the Party and supreme commander of the military. Even in the story announcing Kim Jong-un’s new title, KCNA said Kim Jong-un as the “supreme leader of the WPK and the people of the DPRK” was elected “as first secretary of the WPK, true to the behest of leader Kim Jong Il.” With him as the head of the party, the question now is Kim Jong-un officially the chairman of the Party’s Central Military Commission (CMC)?

A week after Kim Jong-il’s death, the Rodong Sinmun apparently said Kim Jong-un was leading the CMC. Yet, the AP’s Jean Lee recently saw signs in North Korea saying “”We will defend vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission Comrade Kim Jong Un to the death.” According to the Party’s constitution updated in September 2010, it states the “general secretary” (총비서) is also the chairman of the Central Military Commission, compared to Kim Jong-un’s new title as first secretary (제1비서). KCNA did say that the Fourth Conference of the WPK discussed “revising WPK rules,” so possibly this is where changes will occur to officially connect Kim Jong-un’s new title with the chairmanship of the CMC.

Further evidence of Party strengthening can be seen with Jang Song Taek and Kim Kyong Hui, uncle and aunt of Kim Jong-un, moving into prominent positions in the WPK. Jang Song Taek now joins the Political Bureau while his wife becomes a secretary in the Party Secretariat. Ri Myong Su, the Minister of Public Security, joins Jang Song Taek on the Political Bureau and was named a member of the CMC. Ri Myong Su, the Minister of Public Security, joins Jang Song Taek on the Political Bureau and was named a member of the CMC.

Choe Ryong Hae and Hyon Chol Hae, members of the CMC and the NDC respectively, were both awarded the title of Vice Marshal in the Korean People’s Army. These military promotions probably helped with their new positions in the WPK. Choe, a relatively young leader at 61 and appears to have close ties with Jang Song Taek, was given big promotions to Vice-Chairmen of the CMC as well as a member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau. Hyon Chol Hae is now part of the CMC in addition to his role in the NDC.

For leadership changes, we will wait to see if any other announcements are made on moves stemming from the Workers’ Party Conference. With the WPK having a lot of changes during its last recent meeting in September 2010, it is possible few other changes will occur. The Supreme People’s Assembly is scheduled to meet on Friday, April 13, so more news could follow. The main question still remains if Kim Jong-un will officially be the chair of the CMC and the NDC, despite North Korean media basically describing him as the supreme leader of the Party and the military. All of these meetings and moves, along with the anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birthday next week, are meant to illustrate North Korea’s ability to smoothly transition to Kim Jong-un.

Early indications suggest a strengthening of the Party as key members of the North Korean leadership gain positions. If Kim Jong-un will indeed rule more through the Party than his father, he will likely need people like Jang Song Taek, Kim Kyong Hui, Kim Jong Gak, and Ri Myong Su to help him. Their new positions, along with the promotions of Choe Ryong Hae and Hyon Chol Hae give some indication on how Kim Jong-un and the leaders around him plan to maintain power and begin a new era of Kim family leadership in North Korea.

For more info on Kim Jong-un, Jang Song Taek,  Kim Kyong Hui, Kim Yong Chun, and Ri Myong Su, visit  10 People You Need to Know for Transition in North Korea on The Peninsula blog.

Nicholas Hamisevicz is the Director of Research and Academic Affairs for the Korea Economic Institute. The views represented here are his own.

Photo from Zennie Abraham’s photo stream on flickr Creative Commons.


Posted in North Korea, sliderComments (1)

The Magnanimous Comrade: Kim Jong-un’s Amnesty

By Greg Scarlatoiu

North Korea recently announced a special amnesty to prisoners, the first in over six years, to be issued beginning on February 1, in observance of Kim Jong-il’s birthday on February 16 and in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung. The announcement came only two days after the January 8 birthday of Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s recently anointed leader. For the almost 63 years that have passed since its establishment, North Korea has been under the rule of three generations of the Kim clan. While his father had 20 years to prepare and was 52 years old when he assumed leadership in 1994, Kim Jong-un barely had 3 years to prepare, and is only 28 or 29 years old. Despite enjoying the protection of hardline senior, including his uncle Jang Sung-taek and aunt Kim Kyong-hui, and the apparent support of the Korean People’s Army, Workers’ Party and security agencies, experts’ predictions regarding his long-term survival are not buoyant.

The amnesty announced to honor the two late Kims may be intended to present Kim Jong-un as a dutiful son and grandson, cherishing the legacy of his ancestors by benevolently granting favors to the masses. The true intent of the amnesty may be to release certain officials imprisoned during the purge conducted while hasty preparations were being made towards hereditary succession, beginning in early 2009. Purge victims included Pak Nam-gi, director of the Planning and Finance Department in the Workers Party, Moon Il-bong, head of finance, ex-minister of railways, Kim Yong-sam, and Ryu Kyong, the deputy director of the State Security Department. All were executed by firing squad. The broader amnesty may be intended to camouflage the release of certain individuals, secured as the result of a compromise reached behind the scenes to consolidate support for the hereditary transmission of power. If not concealed by a more extensive amnesty, the release of imprisoned officials who were previously deemed unreliable or even hostile may be interpreted as a sign of weakness, something to be avoided at all costs.

Certainly, if there is one place on the face of the earth that can benefit from a genuine amnesty, that is North Korea. There are 200,000 political prisoners held without charge or trial in brutal and harrowing conditions in North Korea’s gulags. Most of them have been imprisoned for having attempted to leave the country, for trying to survive by trading in North Korea’s informal markets, or for other political or religious reasons. Although highly desirable, the Kim regime will be reluctant to release a significant number of political prisoners, for two main reasons: first, North Korea doesn’t admit the existence of its political prisoners and gulags; second, Pyongyang is already struggling with a hastily arranged hereditary succession process, and the last thing it needs on its task list is having to manage the release of political prisoners.

It is not clear how many prisoners North Korea will release, or what types of offenses will be forgiven. North Korea is a ruthless human rights violator, a country where fundamental manifestations of humanity, including speaking one’s mind, cracking a joke, practicing a religion, or trading at an open market have been criminalized. Nevertheless, real, hardened criminals are also very likely to exist. If the announced amnesty results in the release of genuine common delinquents before the expiration of their prison terms, it will not enhance Kim Jong-un’s popularity among ordinary North Koreans.

Supported by hard-liners, Kim Jong-un may have been involved in the nuclear test and missile launches of 2009, the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan on March 26, 2010, and the shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island on November 23, 2010. Kim Jong-un’s youth is a great disadvantage and he draws his legitimacy exclusively from being his father’s son. However, he is too young to be held responsible for much of his father’s brutal legacy, including his having masterminded acts of terrorism such as the bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 in 1987, the 1983 Rangoon bombing, or the abduction of citizens of South Korea, Japan, and other countries.

Although unacceptable from the viewpoint of North Korean hawks not keen on ending the brutal repression of North Korea’s population, granting amnesty to some political prisoners would garner positive international reactions. Burma released some 200 political prisoners in late 2011 and 300 in January 2012—the largest political prisoner release ever in Asia. The subsequent international reaction indicates that, while they result in intensified international calls for the release of all political prisoners, mass releases have the potential to end isolation and open the door for constructive dialogue with the international community and visits by senior foreign officials. While he could certainly benefit from such developments, Kim Jong-un’s dilemma is that he will be unable to depart from his father’s legacy until he has fully established himself as the new ruler of North Korea. The longer he spends strengthening his position based on the same system of brutal repression, the less of a chance he will have to break away from his father’s legacy and move North Korea towards becoming a more humane society. Kim Jong-un’s window of opportunity to become a truly “magnanimous comrade” is closing fast.

Greg Scarlatoiu is the Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK). The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from Mohamed Syazwan Jamaludin’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.


Posted in North Korea, sliderComments (3)

12 Things on the Korean Peninsula to Watch for in 2012

By Nicholas Hamisevicz, Sarah K. Yun, Chad O’Carroll, and Troy Stangarone

Last year saw significant changes on the Korean peninsula. While 2011 ended with the surprise death of Kim Jong-il and the beginning of succession to Kim Jong-un, last year also saw Korea become one of only nine nations to surpass $1 trillion in total trade, the passage of the KORUS FTA, and a surprise election for the mayor of Seoul. With even more change set for 2012 in both Northeast Asia and on the Korean peninsula, here are twelve economic and foreign policy issues that are worth following in the coming year:

1.      The Transition and Public Events in North Korea: Kim Jong-un has been declared the successor to his father. The North Korean government is working hard to illustrate the unity of the nation and the loyalty of the elites to Kim Jong-un. There will likely be a formal meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea where titles and positions will be made and adjusted. Kim Jong Un possibly has an advantage with the early schedule of public events where his new leadership will continue to be highlighted, such as the one hundred year anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth in April and the start of North Korea’s development as a prosperous and powerful nation. However, after those events, there could be more room for maneuvering if other North Korean elites do not like the direction of the country.

2.      Political Change in South Korea: While North Korea may have got the jump on political change in 2012, South Korea will conduct elections for both the National Assembly and the presidency this year. With South Korean presidents limited to a maximum term of five years, Lee Myung-bak will be ending his term in December.  Lee’s Grand National Party (GNP) has Park Geun-hye at the forefront of potential presidential candidates. However, she will likely face a significant challenge from Ahn Cheol-soo, founder of anti-virus software company AhnLab.  Although yet to declare his candidacy, there are growing signs that he will run as the opposition candidate – and recent polls suggest that he has strong support polling at 49.7 percent, some 7 percent more than rival Park Geun-hye.

Additionally, in April, all 299 seats of the National Assembly will be up for vote, with 245 in single-member districts and 54 seats determined through proportional representation. The ruling GNP has fared poorly in local elections recently and developments indicate that progressives may be uniting under a unified banner for the April elections that could seriously compound difficulties for the GNP.

3.      Kim Jong-un and China: In the early days of the transition, China has thrown its support behind Kim Jong-un. Who from China visits North Korea, and especially if Kim visits the new leadership in China, will likely provide clues to the relationship between Pyongyang and Beijing, as well as how secure the new regime feels in its position. Given that China will undergo its own leadership transition this year, 2012 will likely set the tone for both sides going forward.

4.     The Role of Social Media in South Korean Politics: Social media, including Twitter, are playing an increasingly prominent role in Korean political discourse. A recent Hankyroreh and Korea Society Opinion Institute poll showed politics to be one of the most retweeted topics by users in South Korea this year. This suggests that the conversations that take place on Twitter in 2012 will play a significant variable in this year’s presidential election.  South Korea’s Twitter community has an active user rate that is some two times higher than the world average, with nearly 10% of the nation signed up.  The important role Twitter plays in politics can be seen in a campaign that was credited with a higher than expected voter turnout among young voters during the during the April 2011 by-elections.

The team behind the one of the world’s most listened to podcast, Naneun Ggomsuda, may have a key role in determining the outcome of elections in South Korea this year.  Specializing in political satire, their podcast has to date taken a vehemently anti- Lee Myung Bak and Grand National Party position.  They have also developed a number of investigative stories that have attempted to highlight mis-steps by the ruling government, often with significant media interest.  Their feature on Na Kyung-won’s alleged visits to a luxury skin care clinic is said to have contributed to her loss of support in recent Seoul mayoral elections.

5.   The Euro Crisis: Strictly speaking, this isn’t about Korea, but with Korea heavily dependent upon trade for growth and Europe a major trading partner, the euro zone matters for Korea. If Europe is unable to restore market confidence and avoid a deepening of its debt crisis, a steep economic decline in Europe or the unraveling of the euro could hit the global economy hard. While Europe has managed to consistently fail to address the debt crisis in a comprehensive manner, there may be some tell tale signs early in the year regarding whether Europe has turned the corner or not. If France is able to maintain its AAA credit rating and Italy and Spain are able to roll over nearly $200 billion in debt in the first quarter of the year, Europe will likely have passed the most immediate dangers. When it comes to Korea, the stats to think about are this, the EU accounted for 10.2 percent of Korea’s exports and 9.6 percent of its total trade through the first 11 months of 2011.

6.    U.S. Defense Budget Cuts: The U.S. Department of Defense budget is expected to cut $260 billion over the next five years and more than $450 billion over the next decade. In the new budget strategy announcement on January 5, President Obama and Secretary of Defense Panetta presented a revamped U.S. military strategy with an emphasis on Asia and space and cyber capabilities, and preservation of missions in the Middle East.

With a reduced defense budget, partner relationships will become more important. Although the 5% increase in the 2012 South Korean defense budget may offset the potential challenges in the U.S.-Korea military alliance, uncertainties continue as both countries enter an election year. Despite reassurances from Obama and Panetta, the future shape of United States presence in Korea and Asia is still to be determined. With both nations preparing for op-con transfer in 2015, how the budget and strategy changes in the U.S. play out could play a role in the future force structure of the alliance.

7.    North Korea’s Interaction with the United States and South Korea:  Despite its current turn inwards, North Korea will likely turn its attention outwards at some point in 2012. North Korea and the United States seemed to be on the verge of a deal over food aid and possibly moving forward on nuclear talks before Kim Jong-il’s death, and there are early indications these may start back up at some point. As for South Korea, Pyongyang has said that it will not deal with the current administration in Seoul, but 2012 will also bring fresh elections for the National Assembly in April and the presidency in December, key points to watch for in North-South relations.

8.    Seoul Nuclear Security Summit: Seoul will be hosting the second Nuclear Security Summit in March with participation from over 50 national leaders. The agenda will consist of mainly three issues: international cooperation against nuclear terrorism, prevention of illicit transaction of nuclear materials, and protection of nuclear materials, nuclear power plants and other nuclear related institutions.

The appointment of Korea as the chair of the second NSS is both practical and symbolic – practical in that Korea is a close ally of the U.S., enabling smooth coordination; and symbolic in that Korea has been an active member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty with advanced nuclear energy capabilities, yet facing a serious nuclear threat from North Korea.

Whereas the hosting of the G-20 in 2011 elevated Korea’s status as a world economic power, the Seoul NSS will elevate Korea as a world security leader. The NSS will be even more significant in light of Kim Jong-il’s death. President Lee Myung-bak had previously extended an invitation to Kim Jong-il to attend. It will be interesting to see how the new regime responds to the summit.

9.    The Implementation of the KORUS FTA: Now that the United States and Korea have passed the KORUS FTA the two governments are looking to implement the agreement. The agreement should come into force early in the year, but might slip until after National Assembly elections in Korea for political reasons.

10.  The Politics Around the KORUS FTA and U.S.-Korea Relations: Speaking of the politics of the KORUS FTA, prior to the death of Kim Jong-il, the opposition in Korea was turning the FTA into a major campaign issue, calling on Korea to renegotiate certain provisions such as those relating to investor-state dispute settlement. Some had gone so far as to suggest Korea should withdraw from the agreement. Korea’s relationship with the United States is a complex one, and anti-Americanism has played a role in previous elections. While North Korea is now likely to become the major campaign issue, look for the FTA and Korea’s broader relationship with the United States to remain caught up in domestic politics for the time being.

11.  South Korea-China FTA: China has become South Korea’s largest trading partner by a significant margin, with the two countries doing more than $200 billion in trade in the first eleven months of 2011. With the EU and KORUS FTA now concluded, Korea will look to start negotiations with its biggest trading partner in the next few months.

12.  World Expo 2012 – Yeosu, Korea:From May to August, Korea will host the 2012 Expo in the port city of Yeosu. Under the theme of “The Living Ocean and Coast,” the Yeosu Expo will share knowledge in maritime cooperation, marine science, and the proper use of ocean and coast. Korea is anticipating an international recognition of Korea as a leading maritime nation.

Hosting the Expo can be seen as a completion of Korea’s campaign as a world leader – the 2011 G-20 on economic issues, the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit on security issues, and the 2012 Expo on cultural and soft power issues.

Nicholas Hamisevicz is the Director of Research and Academic Affairs, Sarah K. Yun is the Director of Public Affairs and Regional Issues, Chad 0Carroll is the Director of Communications, and Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade for the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are the authors alone.

Photo from Rachael Towne’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in Inter-Korean, North Korea, slider, South KoreaComments (1)

North Korean Leadership Chart – Abridged

By Luke Herman

Updated January 11, 2012.

With the passing of Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s leadership transition is being formally put into place. Here is a quick abridged graphic highlighting the leadership on the National Defense Commission and the State Party’s Political Bureau and Central Military Commission. Below are links to expanded graphics for the Korean Workers Party, the military/security hierarchy, and North Korea’s state organs.

Expanded North Korean Leadership Charts:

Korean Workers Party

North Korean Military/Security Hierarchy

North Korean State Organs

Luke Herman is a Masters student of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego and former KEI Intern.

Posted in North Korea, sliderComments (1)

India: The Other Emerging Power’s Reaction to Kim Jong Il’s Death

By Nicholas Hamisevicz

In Asia much of the pressure and focus from the transition in North Korea after Kim Jong Il’s death is now on China, its neighbor and chief benefactor. As a rising power that provides both economic and national security assistance North Korea needs to survive, China is in a difficult situation with new leadership emerging in North Korea and new leadership scheduled to take over China in October. For the other major emerging power, however, India possesses more ability to monitor the situation in North Korea and react in its best interests to any changes on the Korean peninsula.

Ties between India and North Korea are growing. The two sides had a few diplomatic connections in 2011 that suggested an improvement in bilateral relations. Pak Ui-chun, North Korea’s Foreign Minister, visited India’s embassy in Pyongyang on January 26 for India’s Republic Day event. India’s ambassador to North Korea was then invited to a dinner with North Korean officials. India also provided food aid to North Korea by donating $1 million to the World Food Programme. Moreover, prior to donating food aid, India’s ambassador to North Korea was permitted to visit some of the countryside between Pyongyang and Nampo to see areas in need of economic assistance. The Indian ambassador then toured Nampo. North Korea also sent a delegation to India in May 2011 to examine India’s history with special economic zones. Although engagement with North Korea is often along these smaller interactions, the momentum in India – North Korea relations seems to have a positive trajectory.

Yet India’s relations with North Korea are still hampered by India’s concerns over North Korea’s relations with Pakistan, and to a lesser extent, Burma. Both of India’s neighbors have a history of dangerous interaction with North Korea. Pakistan and North Korea previously traded missile and nuclear technology. Moreover, North Korea’s insistence on keeping its nuclear weapons reminds the international community of A.Q. Khan, one of the fathers of Pakistan’s nuclear program and his network of illegal transfers of nuclear material, especially the connections to North Korea. North Korea represents the negative example of a country outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, in contrast to the positive image India is trying to project for itself to the international community. For India, the rumors over North Korean assistance for Burma’s own nuclear weapons program, along with previous military cooperation, feed a sense of insecurity in the region. During her recent visit to Burma, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Burmese leaders that they must end their illicit activities with North Korea as part of the reforms they are trying to undertake.

North Korea provides some more immediate security concerns for countries recently enhancing their relations with India. South Korea, Japan, and the United States are more immediately impacted by the leadership transition after the death of Kim Jong Il and whose own policies can also more directly influence the outcomes on the Korean peninsula.

India has a strategic partnership and important economic relations with each of these countries. These new connections, along with India’s emergence as a rising power, will bring issues regarding transition in North Korea more deeply into India’s strategic portfolio. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan was in India the last week of December and called on India to support and understand Japan’s position on North Korea’s abductions of Japanese citizens. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell testified in March 2011 that the U.S. has discussed issues regarding North Korea with India. South Korea will also likely use its strategic partnership  with India to discuss approaches to North Korea in the near future.

The China factor is an important aspect in India’s foreign policy calculations. China’s reactions and responses to North Korea’s new leadership will demonstrate its confidence level toward Pyongyang. China would prefer a stable North Korea to prevent the burden of an uncertain government in Pyongyang and the possibility of major action toward North Korea during China’s own leadership transition in 2012. India probably would not mind if the uncertainties in North Korea kept China more preoccupied; some even suggest North Korea moving away from China would be beneficial to India as well.

India will have some benefit of not being directly impacted by the leadership transition in North Korea. However, the transition to Kim Jong-un will have an affect on India’s neighbors and its growing relationships with its strategic partners. India will be looking to see how the new North Korean leadership will approach their interactions with Pakistan, Burma, and China. South Korea, Japan, and the United States are likely to concentrate their efforts on the Korean peninsula, but will look to India for support as a regional and emerging world power. With the ascendance of Kim Jong-un, India’s development as a rising power will likely include more connections to issues regarding North Korea and the future of the Korean peninsula.

Nicholas Hamisevicz is the Director of Research and Academic Affairs for the Korea Economic Institute. The views represented here are his own.

Photo from Sonal And Abe’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in North Korea, sliderComments (2)

Kim Chong-un and Pyongyang’s Signaling Campaign

By Ken E. Gause

Three sets of messages have emerged from the North Korean media in the days since Kim Chong-il’s death on December 17. The first two sets of messages are tied to the leadership configuration that is rising up to take over the reins of power, namely Kim Chong-un supported by a collective group of close aides and regents. The third message is that the regime will continue to adhere to the policy line set down by Kim Chong-il, namely the Songun (Military First) Policy. Together these messages support a regime plan for a smooth transfer of power, which by all indications appears to have taken place. Going forward, what does this mean for the regime and the young man who would be king?

With regard to Kim Chong-un, the regime appears to have launched a blitz campaign to portray him as the legitimate successor to his father, removing any doubt within the mind of the public and elite alike over who is in charge. Particular emphasis has been placed on Kim Chong-un’s bona fides as the leader of the Party and, just as important, the military. On December 24, the 20th anniversary of Kim Chong-il’s assumption of the post of Supreme Commander in 1991, Kim Chong-un visited his father’s funeral bier for a third time. Accompanying the young successor were members of the KWP Central Military Committee (CMC), the National Defense Commission, major commanding officers of the KPA, staff members of the KPA Supreme Command, and commanding officers of the KPA’s large combined units. In other words, it was a ceremonial gathering of the high command. On the same day, the Party daily, Nodong Sinmun, ran a commemorative political essay calling Kim Chong-un the “supreme commander” of the military. Two days later, the same source referred to Kim as leading the KWP CMC, although he only formally holds the title vice chairman.

What seems to be happening is that the regime is using the mourning period to rapidly move through the third phase of the succession, a phase in which the heir apparent would be adorned with the titles of power. In the coming months, if not weeks according to some sources, we can expect that a formal meeting of the Korean Worker’s Party will be convened to convey at least the title of CMC chairman on Kim Chong-un, which, according to the recently revised Party Charter (Article 22), carries with it the title of General Secretary of the Party. On 30 December, the Politburo passed a decree formally transferring the post of Supreme Commander to Kim Chong-un in accordance with his father’s will. Now all military units are required to obey Kim Chong-un’s orders.

The role of Supreme Commander (Choson inmin’gun ch’oego) raises an important question. Will Kim Chong-un be made chairman of the National Defense Commission, a post that is responsible for commanding the armed forces (i.e., the Supreme Commander)? Although the North Korean media called for Kim Chong-un to assume the role of Supreme Commander, it has been mute on the post of NDC chairman. The regime may choose to leave the NDC post vacant. Much as Kim Il-sung became the eternal president, Kim Chong-il might become the eternal head of the NDC, an organization that embodied his leadership era. This scenario might have been tipped by the fact that at least one, if not more, of the funeral events have been handled by Chon Hui-chong, the protocol director for the NDC. This suggests the possibility that the NDC apparatus is already acting in the service of the Party’s CMC. In addition, the key members of the NDC, such as O Kuk-yol and Paek Se-pong (head of the powerful Second Economic Committee), who do not also sit on leading Party bodies, have been integrated into the funeral lists among the government leadership, not singled out, as in the past, as part of the NDC.

These clues aside, Kim Chong-un has already been proclaimed the Supreme Leader (ch’eogo ryo’ngdoja), a title that is currently constitutionally linked to the NDC chairman (Article 100). If Kim Chong-un does not assume this post, the constitution will have to be revised (via the convening of the Supreme People’s Assembly) to separate the posts of Supreme Leader and NDC chairman.

As the funeral ceremonies have played out, the leadership configuration around the Kim Chong-un has come into focus. It is made of several rings and is based in the Party, but largely tied to the high command. The inner core will serve as gatekeepers and most likely be involved in decision-making.

  • VMAR Yi Yong-ho, as director of the General Staff Department, has operational control over the armed forces. A long time associate of the Kim family, he oversees one of the key support groups within the military that is supporting Kim Chong-un. This group is made up of officers in their 50s and 60s generally considered the rising stars among the field commanders and high command. VMAR Yi through this network will be instrumental in keeping the military in check during the transition period.
  • Gen. Chang Song-taek, who has oversight of the internal security apparatus and the economy portfolio, is well situated to support Kim Chong-un in the running of the daily operations of the regime. He is versed in both policy execution and in the machinations revolving around personnel appointments that will be critical for Kim to consolidate his power.
  • Gen. Kim Kyong-hui in the period between her brother’s death on December 17 and the final mourning ceremonies jumped from 14th to 5th in the formal leadership rankings. She will likely play an advisory role and serve as a key arbitrator within the Kim family as well as the larger North Korean leadership.
  • Gen. O Kuk-yol is a long time Kim family loyalist. He, too, jumped within the power rankings from 29th to 13th. His primary responsibility will be to ensure regime stability. His input into decision-making will be limited, but his opinion could carry weight in deliberations involving tradeoffs between reform and security.

The outer ring of this leadership configuration is centered in the Party’s CMC, which is made up of key second and third generation military and security officials from the across the regime. Kim Chong-il’s reinvigoration of the CMC at the Third Party Conference has placed this body on par with the NDC in terms of reach and influence. Under Kim Chong-un, the CMC will most likely replace the NDC as the command post of Military First Politics. It will be responsible for crafting the “great successor’s” image, gathering loyalty toward the new regime, and running the country. In terms of Kim’s relationship with the military, three CMC members are particularly crucial during the transition period. All accompanied Kim Chong-un as he escorted his father’s hearse through the streets of Pyongyang.

  • VMAR Kim Yong-chun, as Minister of People’s Armed Forces, oversees the logistics and training of the military. He will serve, along with Chang Song-taek, as a key conduit to the NDC. In addition he has past service in the KWP Organization Guidance Department and the KPA’s General Political Department, which give him invaluable experience in sniffing out potential disloyalty within the armed forces. It was reportedly his surveillance in this regard that contributed to the staunching of the Sixth Corps incident in the mid-1990s.
  • Gen. Kim Chong-gak is the acting head of the KPA’s General Political Bureau, a responsibility he assumed with the death of Cho Myong-nok. According to North Korean leadership protocol, the director of the GPB, which is the lead agency for ensuring Party control over the military, is the de facto third ranking member in the high command behind the heads of the MPAF and GSD.
  • Gen. U Tong-chuk, as first vice director of the State Security Department, oversees the country’s powerful secret police. Gen. U is a leading member of a key support group to Kim Chong-un composed of general grade officers within the security services. Presumably other members of this group include Gen. Yun Chong-rin, commander of the General Guard Command, and Gen. Kim Won-hong, the commander of the Military Security Command. These organizations form the inner ring for internal security insideNorth Korea.

Other individuals with military portfolios bear watching, such as O Il-chong (director of the KWP Military Department), Kim Kyong-ok (first vice director of the OGD for military affairs), and Choe Ryong-hae (KWP Secretary for Military Affairs). They have important roles to play in monitoring the loyalty of the armed forces and ensuring a smooth transition. They will also be critical to creating and facilitating a unified and centralized Party guidance system that invests the “great successor” with the ideological authority he will need to rule. Media coverage, however, does not suggest they will be within Kim Chong-un’s inner circle, at least initially.

The final set of signals being sent by the regime in the days following Kim Chong-il’s death is tied to policy. KCNA proclaimed on 26 December that under Kim Chong-un, Military First Politics “will be given steady continuity at all times.” This was seconded by an editorial in Nodong Sinmun entitled “Korean people will accomplish the cause of Songun (Military First) under leadership of Kim Chong-un.” This adherence to the policy line set down by Kim Chong-il was emphatically reiterated in a NDC statement on 30 December, which ruled out any policy change with regard toSouth Korea as long as the Lee Myong-bok administration is in power. Given the sensitive nature of the inter-Korean relationship, the new regime’s decision to opt for hardline continuity is not surprising since it will give Kim Chong-un a year to consolidate his position before having to take on the entrenched interests within the military that balk at dialog with Seoul.

But is this initial hardline stance a harbinger of a regime that will remain entrenched and unmoving? Currently, it is hard imagine a radical shift. Authoritative statements have no doubt linked Kim Chong-un’s name to a go slow approach toward the South (even before the NDC announcement) and an embrace of the country’s nuclear weapons capability (“a victory through songun politics”). These will likely remain lines in the sand for the regime for the foreseeable future. As noted in numerous articles, Kim Chong-un is “endlessly loyal to the idea and cause of the great general [Kim Chong-il].”

In the coming days, possibly after a 100-day mourning period, Kim will likely receive the formal positions befitting his position as Supreme Leader. As this process plays out, North Korean policymaking will probably remain firmly within the boundaries set down by Kim Chong-il. This was made clear in the Joint Editorial proclaiming the regime’s goals for 2012. For those looking for radical shifts, either on the domestic or international fronts, only time will tell if that is in the cards.

Ken Gause is the director of the International Affairs Group at CNA, a research organization located in Alexandria, VA. He is the author of the book North Korea Under Kim Chong-il: Power, Politics, and Prospects for Change, which was published by Praeger in August 2011. He also authored a paper in November entitled North Korea After Kim Chong-il: Leadership Dynamics and Potential Crisis Scenarios, which can be obtained on CNA’s website. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from Zennie62’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in North Korea, sliderComments (3)

Unity Under Songun: A Look Into North Korea’s New Year’s Editorial

By Sarah K. Yun

North Korea’s 2012 New Year Editorial had a few highlights with ample unsharpened messages. The overall objective was to emphasize strength and unity under the new Kim Jung-un leadership. In doing so, however, the editorial portrayed an undertone of crouching inwards with a few sprinkles of the typical rhetoric of criticism against the United States and South Korea. The editorial implied that North Korea would be focused mostly on the internal tasks of solidifying the Kim Jong-un leadership with interspersed moments of looking outwards.

Keywords & Phrases

Some of the keywords from the 2012 New Year Editorial included Songun; unity; bequeathed; great, prosperous and powerful country; opening the gates of a thriving country; prosperous and powerful nation; light industry; and food. These keywords give insight to North Korea’s current and future policies.

The largest emphasis was placed on unity under Kim Jong-un’s bequeathed Songun leadership. Songun was used 14 times, bequeathed ten times, and unity nine times to stress the continued struggle towards a unified Songun revolution, which was bequeathed by Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il and now to Kim Jong-un. This implies that the three Kims are one in mind, ideology and leadership, and also shows a window into North Korea’s dire need to stabilize the new regime under the young leader.

“The first and foremost national power of Kim Il Sung’s Korea was, is and will be the might of ideology and unity. The year 2012 is a year of single-minded unity, a year of burning loyalty, when our political and ideological might which has been consolidated generation after generation following the great leaders and the great Party, will be given full play.”

“We must develop our single-minded unity without interruption into the solidest one which is carried forward generation after generation. Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader of our Party and our people, is the banner of victory and glory of Songun Korea and the eternal centre of its unity. The dear respected Kim Jong Un is precisely the great Kim Jong Il.”

The phrases “opening the gates of a thriving country” (kang-sung-boo-heung) and “prosperous and powerful nation” (kang-sung-gook-gah) were new terms and each used ten times in the editorial. However, the well-known phrase of “great, prosperous, and powerful country” (kang-sung-dae-gook) was only used five times. This indicates that North Korea is trying to lessen the emphasis on its goal of achieving a great, prosperous, and powerful country under the new leadership. The change in phrase is all the more interesting given that kang-sung-dae-gook never had specific landmarks in the first place. The change also shows a glimpse into the quick adjustments that North Korea is attempting to make in order to maintain legitimacy of the leadership.

Contrary to what some predicted of Kim Jong-un to be a more enlightened economic reformist, the economic development section was noticeably shorter compared to previous years. This suggests that Kim Jong-un will not likely experiment with revolutionary economic reform policies in the first year of his rule. Some of the economic areas specified included light industry, agricultural or food industry, the electric-power industry, and the coal-mining industry, among others, which boil down to North Korea’s weaknesses in energy and food needs. It will be important to see North Korea’s food and energy policies develop throughout the year.

Other Implications

Besides the keywords and phrases, there are other noteworthy implications from the editorial that point back to the consolidation of Kim Jong-un’s leadership.

First is the potential for a mass political purge in order to reduce ideas of rebellion within the collective political leadership.

“It is important to radically improve the way of work of officials and their leading abilities as required by the era of great upsurge.”

“What is important today for our officials is to actively learn from the militant temperament of the commanding officers of the KPA, who carry out the intentions of Kim Jong Un in a most swift and thoroughgoing way. Officials who buckle down audaciously and without any delay to what the Party is determined to do, who carry out any challenging task at lightning speed in a three-dimensional way and who finish any thing to be impeccable even in the distant future as a thing of lasting value-the current age of great upsurge demand such officials.”

Second is the potential for an inter-Korea engagement strategy. Although there was no mention of inter-Korean cooperation projects, it explicitly mentioned the fifth anniversary of the October 4 Declaration and June 15 Joint Declaration, signaling North Korea’s potential willingness to talk to South Korea. The importance of inter-Korean communication was also emphasized.

“Solving the problems of inter-Korean relations by rejecting aggressive foreign forces and pooling the efforts of our nation itself is the demand of the June 15 reunification era. All the fellow countrymen in the north, south and abroad should open a broad vista for national reunification with the conviction that our nation should be of the first and foremost consideration and that they will have nothing they cannot do if they maintain the thoroughgoing stand of national independence.”

“All the Korean people in the north, south and abroad should unite closely under the banners of the June 15 Joint Declaration and the October 4 Declaration and give further spurs to the reunification movement. By doing so, this year they should make a breakthrough for independent reunification.”

Last, is the absence of nuclear issues throughout the editorial. Perhaps this was to leave room after the recent series of meetings between North Korea and the United States on denuclearization.

Overall, it was a lackluster New Year’s Editorial with a dominant theme of unity under Songun. However, even a lackluster editorial reveals the potential for conflict and engagement with North Korea. Perhaps these engagement points could be found in light industry, food needs, and nuclear negotiations, as indicated in the editorial.

Sarah K. Yun is the Director of Public Affairs and Regional Issues for the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are her own.

Photo from John Pavelka’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in North Korea, sliderComments (3)

About The Peninsula

The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.