Following embarassment over the North’s failed rocket launch, baby-faced heir Kim Jong-un had been in a weak — verging on dangerous — position after taking the reins of power in the isolated dictatorship.
Dismissed military chief Ri Yong-ho was formerly head of the North Korean army, vice-chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission and held top posts in the ruling Workers’ Party. He was relieved of all duties, in an announcement broadcast today on state media, due to “illness”.
This consolidates power in Kim Jong-un’s hands, and sidelines one of the most powerful state figures — who might have otherwise become a potential rival. While probably not in response to an active challenge, this move demonstrates power — preemptively — & sends a strong signal to others.
Having stabilized the leadership transition, and established his power base, the new leader will have more freedom to engage, and less need for “demonstrations of strength” to prove his credentials.
Thankfully, this should reduce his need to conduct nuclear or rocket tests, or to stage further provocative military clashes.
As a rational actor playing a poor hand, the North Korean leadership depend heavily on bluster — but are incentivized to avoid major conflict, as their biggest fear is being overrun by a seaborne invasion.
North Koreans are widely aware of China & Asia’s recent rise to wealth & prosperity — a rise that has included almost all, but them. Despite their country being flooded with cheap goods from China, they remain desperately poor, still suffering frequent mass starvation.
Broadcasting Disney characters on TV at this point, may be seen as both normalizing the concept of engagement & trade with outside cultures — and weakening previous emphasis on “self reliance”, military defiance and the rejection of Western culture.
With new leadership & power consolidated, Kim Jong-un may now be able to set his own direction and consider making changes in the Hermit Kingdom. However, only time will tell.
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- Stratpark — North Korea’s new leader: Motivation & Intentions
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