The other day I noted reports of an armed clash between soldiers loyal to North Korea dictator Kim Jong-Un and those of Marshal Ri Yong-Ho, which may have resulted in the army chief’s
sudden retirement death. At the time I speculated on a few possible explanations, all of which were equally likely given the difficulty of knowing just what is going on there.
Now news comes of further changes, indicating that the move against Marshal Ri is part of a larger drive to take control of the economy from the military and, perhaps, institute needed reforms:
Impoverished North Korea is gearing up to experiment with agricultural and economic reforms after young leader Kim Jong-un and his powerful uncle purged the country’s top general for opposing change, a source with ties to both Pyongyang and Beijing said.
The source added that the cabinet had created a special bureau to take control of the decaying economy from the military, one of the world’s largest, which under Kim’s father was given pride of place in running the country.
The downfall of Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho and his allies gives the untested new leader and his uncle Jang Song-thaek, who married into the Kim family dynasty and is widely seen as the real power behind the throne, the mandate to try to save the battered economy and prevent the secretive regime’s collapse.
The current Kim’s father had, like Emperor Septimius Severus, decided to “enrich the soldiers, and scorn all others.” While it preserved his rule, it was an utter disaster for the North — repeated famine and economic ruin. If his son (and the son’s eminence grise uncle) are going to institute reforms along Chinese lines, liberalizing the economy while retaining absolute political control, we can only hope for their success. Not only would the people’s lives be improved, but North Korea would move further away from a state collapse that could have catastrophic effects on the region.
Or, maybe not. It may be that the North is too far along the road to failure to stave off the inevitable for more than a few years. And it’s sometimes been noted that revolutions happen when circumstances start improving and the people demand their rising expectations be fulfilled, because a starving, brutalized population hasn’t the time for revolt. In that case, Kim III’s reforms might be the cracks that cause the dam to break.
Who knows? Whatever the truth may be, one hopes that Kim Jong-Un is aiming for real reform and that it succeeds, if only to bring some relief to the long-suffering people of the world’s largest prison camp masquerading as a nation.
Via Walter Russell Mead, who notes that the regime is blustering again about nuclear tests. Sounds to me like a bone tossed to the military, to make the economic changes more palatable.
(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)