Category: Jang Song Thaek purge

North Korea’s class system

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Since insight into North Korea is rare, as data or research is not available because of how isolated the country remains, insights from defectors and others involved with the country offer glimpses of what life is like on the inside.

For one, society in North Korea was highly fragmented by a class system.

There were three socio-political classifications that were based on North Korean citizens’ families, or their loyalty to the government, according to the Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson. These three groups were called the “core,” “wavering,” and “hostile” classes.
– The elites, those who fought foreigners, as well as those closest to the supreme leader, made up the core class.
– Peasants, laborers, and workers formed the second class.
– Those on the lowest rung were those who had opposed the elder Kim’s regime, or had previously worked with South Korea or Japan.

“And your life … ranging from residence, employment, education … is decided by the class system,” explains former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho. “I was lucky to be born into the ‘core’ class, the ruling class. That’s why I was able to get [an] elite education and a good job, and I lived in Pyongyang in good apartments… [but] there is a very strict class system structure in North Korea. … North Korea is just like the feudal dynasty of the Middle Ages.”

Despite being part of the upper echelon, Thae said he definitely wasn’t going to miss the life he left behind.

“The Kim family does not care about the human rights of individuals,” he stated. “They only care about their own interest.”

[Yahoo Finance]

Chinese President Xi Jinping to make first official visit to North Korea

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Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in North Korea on Thursday for a two-day state visit, his first official trip to the country since he came to power in 2012. Xi is making the trip “at the invitation” of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Xinhua reported Monday.

Relations between the two countries had been in a deep chill under the North Korean leader until recently, but an unexpected visit by Kim to China in March 2018 signaled the beginning of a new era of Beijing-Pyongyang relations.

In the preceding years, Kim had purged several key officials with close ties to Beijing, including his uncle Jang Song Thaek. He had also angered China through his provocative missile and nuclear testing, which went against Beijing’s goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

However since that visit early last year, Xi and Kim have met four times, with China even lending the young North Korean leader a plane to attend a June 2018 summit with Trump in Singapore.

This week’s state visit will make Xi the first Chinese leader to visit North Korea since his predecessor, Hu Jintao visited in 2005. China is North Korea’s number one trading and economic partner, and Pyongyang’s only major military ally.

 [CNN]

‘The Great Successor’ Kim Jong Un

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There are few world leaders past or present we know less about than North Korea’s reclusive, nuclear-armed bad boy, Kim Jong Un. Kim’s very existence was only officially acknowledged a few years before the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December 2011 after the elder Kim launched an 11th-hour scramble to ensure dynastic succession. At the time, no one was even sure of the new leader’s exact age, let alone his agenda.

So, The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un by The Washington Post‘s Anna Fifield — who has spent considerable time in North Korea both before and after the princeling Kim’s ascent — is a welcome addition to the political literature.

What emerges is a portrait of Kim fully in charge and consciously channeling his grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, to bolster his legitimacy. Contrary to prevailing stereotypes, in this story Kim is anything but a madman. Cold-blooded for sure, but playing a calculated defensive strategy aimed at standing up his rule.

By Fifield’s account, Kim is willing to loosen his grip just enough to placate the impoverished masses and the regime’s wealthy oligarchs. At the same time, he has proved more ruthless than his father — dispatching potential rivals, such as his uncle and top regime adviser Jang Song Thaek, who was executed in 2013, and his half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, who was ambushed with a deadly nerve agent at a Kuala Lumpur airport three years later. The book also asserts unequivocally that Kim Jong Nam was a CIA informant, which had only been rumored previously.

Fifield offers us intriguing tidbits from Kim’s childhood — we get a picture of isolation in Kim’s formative years, with few playmates and an overwhelming, if not surprising, sense of entitlement.

Following his father’s death, the new leader understood that his youth and inexperience, particularly in a culture that values age and wisdom, meant that he needed to move quickly to consolidate power, Fifield notes. The nuclear and missile programs started by his grandfather and nurtured by his father were kicked into overdrive. And once North Korea’s ability to deliver these weapons to the shores of the hated United States proved sufficiently convincing, Kim was ready to pivot — “time for the cruel, threatening, nuclear-armed tyrant to begin his metamorphosis into misunderstood, gracious, developmental dictator,” writes Fifield.

Kim’s “charm offensive” that closely followed an alarming escalation of war rhetoric and personal insults traded by the regime and the serial tweeting President Trump was part of this attempt. With the goal of trying to understand the U.S. president, “North Korean officials began asking former American officials to decipher Trump’s tweets for them,” Fifield writes. “They read The Art of the Deal … They asked about the United States’ nuclear attack protocol. They asked if Trump really had the sole authority to push the nuclear button.”

By the time of the Singapore summit between Kim and Trump in June 2018, the North Koreans appear to have cracked the U.S. president’s code — that flattery would get them everywhere. At the conclusion of the meeting, however, it was Trump who was publicly praising the North Korean leader, calling him “very smart,” and a “very good negotiator” and admiring Kim’s iron-fisted rule of the North, that he was “able to run it, and run it tough.” What more could a shy young dictator want?

Kim understands that getting sanctions lifted, or at least eased, may be key to his long-term survival, Fifield writes. It’s not that rank-and-file North Koreans have the capacity to revolt, but that the country’s 0.01 percent, the technocrats who know the situation inside and outside of the country, need to be kept happy.

[NPR]

Status of ‘executed’ North Korean nuclear envoys

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Kim Hyok Chol – North Korea’s top nuclear envoy who was reportedly executed is actually alive and in state custody, CNN reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Kim Hyok Chol, who led working-level negotiations for the February summit in Hanoi between President Donald Trump and leader Kim Jong Un, is being investigated for his role in the failure to reach a deal, CNN reported Tuesday. A conservative South Korean daily, Chosun Ilbo, sparked global intrigue over the fate of Kim Hyok Chol when it reported Friday he had been executed by firing squad after being charged with espionage as part of an internal purge.

A career diplomat from an elite North Korean family, Kim Hyok Chol made his international debut a few weeks before the Hanoi summit as Pyongyang’s new point man for nuclear negotiations, taking diplomats by surprise. As to his personal “failure” in the summit, South Korea’s former top envoy to international nuclear talks with North Korea commented, “I cannot imagine that Kim Hyok Chol misinterpreted the U.S. position and misled his bosses into believing that sanctions relief is possible. He is not senior enough to make such a judgment.”

Kim Yong Chol – Recently, another key player Kim Yong Chol appeared in public attending an art performance alongside Kim Jong Un. An invitation to join to join the North Korean leader in public would likely not be extended to someone who had fallen out of favor. However, sources said Kim Yong Chol had seen power “almost deprived” since the Hanoi summit. The sources add Kim, who previously served as North Korea’s spy chief, was not sentenced to forced labor, but instead “kept silently in his office writing statements of self-criticism.” Trotting him out publicly was a signal to Washington that Kim Jong Un was “not breaking off negotiations over denuclearization,” despite escalating tensions in recent weeks, one source said.

Sin Hye Yong – Kim Jong Un’s translator at the failed Hanoi talks, Sin Hye Yong, also is in custody and under investigation, sources said.

The above North Korean officials join other senior North Korean officials who South Korean media over the years has reported they had been executed, only to have proven false.

Diplomats and officials from Pyongyang have been known to disappear from public view only to resurface after a period of so-called reeducation, analysts and former diplomats say.

[CNN / Bloomberg]

Pompeo says the US is investigating if Kim Jong Un executed a North Korean official

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US is looking into a report that North Korea executed a top envoy after the summit between North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump collapsed.

According to the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, Kim Hyok Chol, North Korea’s special envoy to the US, was executed after the summit ended early. The report said he was executed in March for “being recruited by US imperialists and betraying the supreme leader.”

Chosun Ilbo reported that the execution was part of a purge of top officials that saw four other officials executed.

It reported that a senior official was part of Kim’s team for both of his summits with Trump was sentenced to hard labor and ideological “re-education.” The official, Kim Yong Chol, met Trump at the White House in 2018 and was photographed with him.

It also reported that an interpreter from the summit was imprisoned for what the newspaper said was an interpretation error at the February summit. It said that North Korea felt the error “damaged the authority” of Kim.

South Korea said that “it’s inappropriate to make hasty judgments or comments” about the report. There have been cases where South Korean media or intelligence officials said that an individual was executed, only for them to re-emerge months later. But some reports have also been accurate.

 [AOL]

Did North Korea execute top negotiator over failed Trump summit?

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Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest newspaper, reported Friday that North Korea had executed a top negotiator involved in Kim Jong Un’s failed summit with President Trump in February, and punished a key aide.

Chosun Ilbo cited an unnamed, unspecified source as saying nuclear envoy Kim Hyok Chol was executed by firing squad in March for acting as a U.S. spy.

“Kim Jong Un is believed to have ordered the purge,” the newspaper reported, saying that the moves were intended “to contain internal unrest and mounting public dissatisfaction” after the North Korean leader failed to secure relief from economic sanctions during his second tête-à-tête with Trump in Vietnam.

Government and intelligence officials in South Korea said that they could not confirm the report. A representative of President Moon Jae-in cautioned local journalists not to jump to “rash judgments,” according to media reports. Friday’s report came from Kim Myong-song, a North Korean defector-turned-journalist who reports on South Korea’s unification ministry.

The report also said former military intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol, who hand-delivered a letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump, was sent to a labor camp near the Chinese border on similar charges, and another official who had also participated in working-level negotiations in the lead-up to the Hanoi summit alongside Kim Hyok Chol and the interpreter who translated for Kim Jong Un had been sent to political prison camps. (Kim Hyok Chol, the negotiator, was a former ambassador to Spain who only emerged as North Korea’s envoy in nuclear talks with the U.S. earlier this year.)

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies, said he was paying little heed to the reported purge.

[Los Angeles Times]

Defector says Jang Song Thaek a tyrant who wrecked North Korea’s economy

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According to a defector who once claimed membership in the Korean Workers’ Party, and served in the North Korean air force before he resettled in the South, important features of Pyongyang’s planned economy are gravely misunderstood as are incidents like the execution of Kim Jong Un’s uncle-in-law Jang Song Thaek.

The defector, identified only as Kim, said drastic actions from powerful members of the North Korean regime, including Jang, were responsible for the shutdown of North Korean industry when millions starved.

When North Korea publicly disclosed the execution of Kim Jong Un’s uncle-in-law in 2013, the news sent shock waves around the world. North Koreans may also have been surprised, but not shocked, when Jang was sentenced to death by his nephew.

But according to defector Kim, Jang was a “bad person” who enriched himself during North Korea’s notorious 1994-98 Great Famine, when idle machines in factories were torn apart and sold. Jang was responsible for selling North Korean coal to China, even though the energy source was needed domestically.

Jang, who secretly controlled the levers of power in the North for decades, also ordered the rounding up of citizens with spinal disorders that cause dwarfism, Kim said. The victims were sent to concentration camps because Jang believed their presence in society was “bad for socialism.” The men and women were “secretly kidnapped,” and families would find them unexpectedly missing when they returned home.

North Korea’s economy may also baffle outsiders. Profits are the least of economic priorities in North Korea, the defector said, where a pair of shoes that costs 60 cents to produce would be supplied to the population at 3 cents. The notion of an economy that benefits people in this way also means Kim Jong Un is not the kind of dictator outsiders have assumed him to be.

[UPI]

Recent changes in Kim Jong Un’s high command

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Prior to the Singapore Summit, Kim Jong Un switched his top military leaders as part of the preliminary phase of mothballing the DPRK’s WMD program.

The changes in the high command made in the past two months involve the heads of the three institutions which comprise a military and political command and control over the Korean People’s Army (KPA) conventional and special operations forces, as well as the rear service and administrative components which support them. These institutions include the Minister of the People’s Armed Forces (the DPRK’s equivalent of a defense minister), the Chief of the KPA General Staff Department (and by extension the 1st Vice Chief of the General Staff and Director of the Operations Bureau) and the director of the KPA General Political Bureau. These are the top three positions in the KPA high command.

All three of the appointees are Kim Jong Un loyalists who have held high office since 2012. They will contribute to and implement his policies, including external overtures to China and the ROK as well as phased denuclearization, with little to no resistance. None has any long-standing patronage ties, and can be counted on not to feather their nests through malfeasance or misappropriation of resources. This is not to suggest that their predecessors were corrupt or disloyal; rather, the new appointments are an insurance policy based on their previous positions and contributions to the regime and their close links to Kim Jong Un and other members of the core leadership. In this respect, the Suryong (supreme leader) is leaving nothing to chance.

[38 North]

The politics of Kim Jong Un’s secret trip to China

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A surprise visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to China may indicate Pyongyang’s need for support from its closest ally ahead of upcoming summits with South Korea and the US. Observers say it would be highly unusual for Kim to meet US President Donald Trump without seeing Chinese President Xi Jinping first. China is North Korea’s number one trading and economic partner, and is Pyongyang’s only major military ally.

Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are due to meet next month, and a proposed meeting with Trump is due to take place by May.

Since North and South Korea reopened diplomatic ties in February, Pyongyang has been pushing for a Korean solution to the ongoing crisis on the peninsula, which analysts say is a way of driving a wedge between Seoul and Washington.

But recent moves have also left China, North Korea’s most important ally, somewhat marginalized.

The two countries have been allies since the Korean War, when Mao Zedong sent troops to support Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, and still maintain a mutual defense treaty, under which they pledge to “immediately render military and other assistance by all means at its disposal” in the event of war or foreign attack.

Since Kim Jong Un took power in 2011 however, the relationship has become increasingly strained. Kim purged several key officials with close ties to Beijing, including his uncle, Jang Song Thaek. He also angered China by pursuing missile and nuclear testing against Beijing’s stated goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

“The North Korean Chinese relationship has not been very good in recent years, particularly over China’s acceptance of international sanctions and degree of implementing them,” said James Hoare, an associate fellow at Chatham House and former UK diplomat in North Korea. “These will be subjects the North Koreans are keen to talk about.”

“China would like to be seen as the ultimate peacemaker in the region,” said Adam Cathcart, an expert on Sino-Korean relations at the University of Leeds.

Tong Zhao, a North Korea expert at the Carnegie Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, adds, “A stable and positive relationship with China would prevent the US from launching a military strike.”

[CNN]

Kim Jong-un promotes sister to North Korean politburo

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Kim Yo-jong, the youngest daughter of late leader Kim Jong-il, will be replacing her aunt as a member of the Workers Party’s Politburo.

Kim Yo-jong (30), who has frequently appeared alongside her brother in public and is thought to have been responsible for his public image, was already influential as vice-director of the propaganda and agitation department.  She was referred to as a senior party official three years ago.

Her promotion was announced by Mr Kim at a party meeting on Saturday as part of a reshuffle involving dozens of other top officials.

The BBC’s Danny Savage says the move to elevate Ms Kim will be seen as further evidence of the Kim family’s iron grip on North Korea.

When Ms Kim was given a key post at the country’s rare ruling party congress last year, it was widely expected that she would take up an important role in the country’s core leadership.

[BBC]