Disaffection is spreading among the North Korean elite who are unsettled by the capricious decisions of current leader Kim Jong-un.
Under former leader Kim Jong-il, defections were common among ordinary people, but Kim Jong-un’s father kept the elite sweet with gifts of cars, watches and other privileges. But since Kim Jong-un stepped into power, he has cracked down on the defection routes of ordinary people but scared the elite as well.
A string of defections of relatively senior officials followed the brutal execution of Jang Song-taek in late 2013. Over the last two years alone, around 20 senior Workers Party, state and military officials have defected to South Korea.
Sources say members of the elite are so scared they are inventing excuses to decline promotions and clamor to be posted overseas to avoid the brutal purges Kim has implemented since he came to power five years ago. An estimated 130 mid-to-high-ranking officials have been purged. Workers Party secretary Choe Ryong-hae, once touted as the North’s No. 2 official, was sent to a reeducation camp with his wife late last year after complaining about Kim.
Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee told reporters Monday that the defection of a senior spy may be “a sign” of disaffection among the elite. The man was a colonel in the General Bureau of Reconnaissance, which was launched in 2009 by combining three military and Workers Party departments and reports directly to Kim Jong-un.
“The higher the rank, the greater the stress from possibly being purged,” a source said. Another intelligence source said, “North Korean generals have become expendable. Officials are probably afraid to serve the fickle Kim Jong-un.”
One researcher at a state-run think tank said, “Rising dissent among the elite could lead to a crisis for Kim Jong-un.”