North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Did Kim Jong-un send a redenominated inducement? And Snyder on Succession

Kim Jong-un

Jiji cites an NGO report that said the KWP Central Committee issued an announcement that 500 won (0f the new currency) would be ladled out to North Korean citizens:

On 20 December, it was learned that the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party of North Korea had issued a “public relations release” announcing that 500 won (approximately 2,300 yen) had been furnished to each and every citizen (head of household) in the country under the pretext of “consideration money from General Kim.” A portion of the citizenry has reportedly already received this money.

The “General Kim” in this case is said to be Kim Jong-un.  Although, “General” has also been applied to Kim Jong-il, but it’s usually the more referential “The General” and Kim Jong-il is referred in North Korean media as “Supreme Commander Comrade Kim Jong-il.”  Previous reports have also referred to Kim Jong-un as “Captain,” but it’s possible KJU has rapidly risen through the ranks of the KPA.  If this report is accurate, perhaps the Morningstar General, recollecting his schoolboy days in Switzerland, and sending North Korean citizens Christmas presents.  Or the young General Kim has appropriated a bit of his dad’s show business m.o. and is these monetary gifts as part of his succession campaign (“for your consideration”).  I will note here that it is Swiss Film week in Pyongyang.

On the academic side of succession matters, Korea expert Scott Snyder has shrewdly projected the current US-DPRK interactions onto successor politics.  The Korea Times report on Mr. Snyder’s recent analysis takes special interest in potential messiness that could result if under any of the successor scenarios:

“The contested succession scenario poses the greatest possibility that external powers might be drawn into possible conflict if North Korea’s neighbors perceive various factions as distinctly favorable to their own interests,” he added.

The scenario points at a situation in which North Korea would collapse without a clear successor capable of re-imposing political order.

In this case, South Korea is presumably the natural candidate to take over and reestablish stability in the North, effectively “achieving Korean reunification” in the process, he said.

Snyder stressed, however, the challenges left behind by the outgoing regime would likely overwhelm the capacities of any single state.

“In this context, the U.S.-ROK alliance may well become more important to South Korea to provide the security necessary to ensure that neighbors do not take political advantage while South Korea is consumed with the tasks,” he said.

What I shall term the “factions battle royal” scenario still seems a remote possibility.  Until the last few years Kim Jong-il’s rule in the DPRK thrived on a freewheeling competition between elite constituents.  Yet, with the amended DPRK Constitution and internal Party policies, General-Secretary Kim has moved to tighten the DPRK’s control channels to thwart internal conflicts in succession.  Pyongyang watchers have cited strawmen KPA Generals as possible impediments to a hereditary successor or collective management.  However, it remains to be seen what kind of power someone such as Gen. Ri Myong-su (said to be a rival to Jang Song-thaek) retains without a living, breathing Kim Jong-il.  Another possible claimant to the Big Chair could be O Kuk-ryol, but Gen. O has personal ties to Mr. Jang.  What’s more these and any other challengers (such as Ri Je-gang, who has been identified as KJU’s most vociferous backer since 2003) are in their 70’s.

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