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Tsutomu Nishioka

【#474(Special)】Personnel Shakeup Indicates Pyongyang’s Sense of Crisis

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2017.10.17 (Tue)

October 11, 2017

     On October 10, the anniversary of the Korea Workers’ Party, North Korea did not make any military provocation like missile firing and nuclear tests. Given the Kim Jong-un regime’s persistent attitude of striving to possess nuclear missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland, however, U.S.-North Korea military tensions are destined to heighten. KWP personnel shakeup before the anniversary underscored the Kim regime’s desperate efforts to forcefully contain fears and disturbances over Kim’s hardline policy against the United States.

Promotion of old cadre to support Kim’s regime
     A KWP Central Committee meeting on October 7 attracted attention with Kim’s report and KWP senior official appointments.
     “[KWP Chairman Kim Jong-un] stressed the need to continue thoroughly implementing the Party's line of simultaneously developing the two fronts [of the economic construction and the building of nuclear force] so as to successfully accomplish the great historic cause of building the state nuclear force,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported. The remark was the declaration of Kim’s determination to continue nuclear and missile development and indicated that he has yet to “accomplish” the development.
     As for KWP senior official appointments, media reports focused on the promotion of Kim Jong-un’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong to a Politburo candidate member. However, we should pay attention to the appointment of Cho Yon-jun, first deputy director of KWP Central Organizations and Guidance Department, as chairman of the KWP Central Control Committee. The committee is a horrific organization authorized to monitor not only party, government, military and security officials but also ordinary citizens. It can execute or imprison anybody as a political criminal.
     Cho Yon-jun is an old KWP cadre aged 80. He is said to have played a key role in the execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle Jang Song-thaek and has been viewed as having power over the Kim Jong-un regime behind the scene. After serving long as a close aide to Kim Jong-un’s father Kim Jong-il and deputy director of the Organizations and Guidance Department, he became first deputy director of the department and a Politburo candidate member under the Kim Jong-un regime.
     The Kim Jong-un regime was initially supported by three pillars – (1) related senior party officials including Jang Song-thaek and his wife Kim Kyong-hui, (2) State Security Minister Kim Won-hong who was dubbed a messenger from beyond the grave as he led the purge of KWP cadres, and (3) the KWP Organization and Guidance Department that supported the Kim Jong-il regime behind closed doors. Since Kim Jong-un inherited the three pillars from his father, he had to replace them all to complete his own dictatorship. At present, the unexperienced Ms. Kim Yo-jong is Kim Jong-un’s one and only relative who supports him. Kim Won-hong has been fired, losing his power struggle with the Organization and Guidance Department. As a result, Kim Jong-un is now supported mostly by old cadres of the Organization and Guidance Department.

Reflecting domestic disturbances?
     The Organization and Guidance Department is specialized in domestic control, lacking an international sense. Its top official has come out this time as Central Control Committee chairman. This may reflect serious domestic disturbances. There are many KWP cadres who are unwilling to commit joint suicide with the Kim Jong-un regime that continues a dangerous chicken race with the United States while confronting with China. As U.S.-North Korea military tensions heighten, some group willing to eliminate Kim Jong-un for survival could come out from the inside. Cho Yon-jun’s assumption of the chair of the Central Control Committee can be interpreted as reflecting Kim Jong-un’s sense of crisis.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a member of the Planning Committee at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and Visiting Professor at Reitaku University.