Alex Mansourov has written an extended analysis of the succession in three parts for 38North, the must-read maintained by SAIS. It is interesting both for its overall conclusions and for a number of details we missed (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). Of particular interest is Mansourov’s claim that the regime may be setting the stage for wider economic reforms.
The big questions are whether the regime is stable and whether Kim Jong Un is in charge. Mansourov answers “yes” and “yes.” Mansourov provides an excellent blow-by-blow of the purges in the military. Like us, he takes them as an indicator of the success Kim III has had in dispensing with the support team Kim Jong Il had put in place for him over the course of 2009-11.
Unlike us, Mansourov argues that too much is made of the rise of Jang Song Thaek; while currently significant, Mansourov belives Jang is ultimately expendable. He notes that Kim Jong Il purged his own uncle Kim Yong Ju in the mid-1970s because he was seen as a credible contender for the throne. Our analysis of on-the-spot guidance data through the first half of the year shows that Jang accompanied the new leader more frequently than any other member of the senior leadership. Although expendable in the future, Kim Jong Un relies on him extensively and through him on Jang’s networks. As Mansourov notes Jang not only appeared to have a hand in the purges but in filling subsequent vacancies out of a network that had worked with Jang in the past: “new General Political Department Director Choe Ryong Hae, Pyongyang party boss Mun Kyong Dok, the party secretary responsible for South Korea Kim Yang Gon, his right-hand man at the WPK CC Administrative Department Ri Ryong Ha, director of WPK CC Mass Public Organizations Department Ri Yong Su, North Korea’s Ambassador to China Ji Jae Ryong, and others.” A key unknown: does this faction have identifiable views with respect to policy?
Mansourov also notes that the churning in the military has been matched by an effort to rebuild the party through the conferences in September 2010 and April 2012. Kim Jong Un both expanded these bodies—as we detail here—and packed the Politburo, Secretariat, and Central Military Commission with loyalists. Mansourov does not make mention of the fact that the representation of the military in the party bodies increased sharply. But he does note that the Politburo has been used on several important occasions to put the imprimatur on key personnel decisions, a departure from past practice. In particular he notes the July 15 meeting that purged Ri Yong Ho and the November 4 meeting that appointed Jang Song Thaek as Chairman of Physical Culture and Sports Commission.
To be honest, we dismissed this new appointment for Jang and racked it up to the leadership’s enthusiasm for pouring money into sports programs that will garner success stories for the evening news. Mansourov has a much different take: he believes the very presence of Jang in this position signals it could be something more. According to Mansourov, the Sports Commission endows him with “an institutional platform to encompass and guide all party, government, and military organizations at the central and local levels beyond the power bloc institutions.” Mansourov suggests it could even emerge as a rival institution to the NDC. Another possibility: the model of a high-level coordinating commission could be extended to more serious issues, such as the failing economy.
For our purposes, Mansourov’s most interesting and provocative claims have to do with the revamping of the economic team. He provides a table detailing all of the Vice-Premiers and Cabinet members Kim Jong Un has replaced and it is long. His interpretation is worth quoting at length:
“Since his inauguration, Kim Jong Un has revamped the national economic team, reaffirming the central role of the Cabinet in policymaking. He has also given more power to key officials known for their “reformist” views and their commitment to raising the people’s living standards through “pro-market” policies. In his conversation with responsible party officials at the WPK CC on April 6, 2012, Kim reaffirmed the principle of the “Cabinet’s primary responsibility” for the nation’s economy and of the “Cabinet’s centrality” in managing national economic affairs. For all practical purposes, in contrast to his father, the new leader has so far refrained from hands-on guidance, instead empowering premier Choe Yong Rim to lead the nation’s economic development and leaving no doubt in the public’s mind that he will be the fall guy if the nation’s economic health does not improve.”
We remain more skeptical. A recent KCNA post—that we reproduce in full below—trumpets Kim Jong Un’s accomplishments for the year. Most of it is devoted to honors that were bestowed on Kim Jong Un by the regime that he himself leads; this is not what most of us would typically call an “accomplishment.” Tucked away at the bottom of the list, however, was the claim that “a dynamic drive was waged to radically increase the grain production by implementing the party's policy for agricultural revolution and positive measures were taken by the state in this respect.” We have been hard pressed to find any evidence for either a shift toward Cabinet responsibility nor of significant economic reforms (see our efforts to find something here, here and most recently here). However, we cannot rule out that Kim Jong Un is slowly turning a very large ship and that the first step is a house-cleaning.
For anyone seriously interested in the succession, Mansourov’s posts deserve close reading.
KCNA Report on Kim Jong Un’s Leadership Feats in 2012
Pyongyang, December 22 (KCNA) -- The Korean Central News Agency Friday released a report on the landmark phase the dear respected Marshal Kim Jong Un brought about in the general advance in the new centenary of the Juche era by victoriously leading the drive of service personnel and people of the DPRK for building a thriving socialist nation with his outstanding and seasoned leadership this significant year.
According to it, Kim Jong Un has wisely led the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), consolidating its organizational and ideological foundation and the single-minded unity of the DPRK and reinforcing its will to defend itself. The tasks conceived and set forth by leader Kim Jong Ilwere carried out successfully, providing eternal foundations for the prosperity of the country.
The supreme temple of Juche was perfectly remodeled as the palace of the eternal sun and the work to let Kim Jong Il lie in state was conducted in a solemn atmosphere, it said, and went on:
The Kumsusan Memorial Palace where President Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il lie in state was renamed the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on the occasion of the Day of the Shining Star.
Their statues were erected on Mansu Hill and at Kim Il Sung Military University, Ministry of the People's Armed Forces, Ministry of State Security and the Mansudae Art Studio and in Kanggye City, etc.
Portraits of smiling Kim Jong Il were displayed, towers to his immortality erected in various parts of the country and the Day of the Shining Star, the greatest holiday of the nation, was instituted.
Kim Jong Un in his work "Let Us Hold Great Comrade Kim Jong Il in High Esteem as General Secretary of Our Party Forever and Successfully Accomplish the Revolutionary Cause of Juche" formulated the revolutionary idea of the WPK as Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism and lucidly clarified the invincibility of the Juche revolution advancing under its banner.
The 4th Conference of the WPK held Kim Jong Il in high esteem as its eternal general secretary.
The 5th Session of the 12th Supreme People's Assembly newly codified that the title of the chairman of the National Defence Commission shall go to Kim Jong Il only in recognition of his undying feats performed in the nation-building.
Kim Jong Il was awarded the titles of Generalissimo and Hero of the DPRK, Order ofKim Il Sung and Kim Il Sung Prize.
The DPRK newly instituted Order of Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Il Prize, Kim Jong Il Youth Honor Prize and Kim Jong Il Children Honor Prize as the supreme order and prize of the DPRK and top prizes for Korean youth and children.
The postgraduate course of Kim Il Sung Military University and University of People's Security were named after Kim Jong Il.
On April 15 (the Day of the Sun), 2012, Kim Jong Un in his congratulatory speech to all the service personnel and people of the country solemnly declared that a strategy of the new century of the Korean revolution and its final victory lie in advancing straight along the road of independence, Songun and socialism indicated by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
A national meeting, military parade, evening of fireworks and other important political events of the party and state took place in Pyongyang and colorful social and cultural events and sports festivals were held in Pyongyang and local areas to celebrate the centenary of birth ofKim Il Sung.
The Huichon Power Station, the Exhibition House of Arms and Equipment of the KPA, Tanchon Port, the second phase project for the reclamation of Kwaksan Tideland and other monumental edifices were completed one after another.
The world conference on the Juche idea, international meeting supporting for Korea's reunification, 28th April Spring Friendship Art Festival and other events took place in the DPRK and many other countries and regions to celebrate the 100th Day of the Sun.
The successful launch of satellite Kwangmyongsong 3-2 is the greatest gift presented by the WPK and the people to the 100th Day of the Sun and serves as a striking demonstration of the overall national power of Songun Korea.
The single-minded unity and the military capabilities, precious revolutionary legacies bequeathed by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, were further strengthened in every way this year.
On the morning of the New Year's Day Kim Jong Un displayed the traits of being great comrades-in-arms whereby the leader and soldiers advance arms in arms and shoulder to shoulder.
The celebrations of the 66th anniversary of the Korean Children's Union, War Victory Day, 65th anniversary of the revolutionary schools, 4th national meeting of mothers, etc. were held with splendor.
Fresh progress was made in building a thriving socialist nation.
Kim Jong Un made public works including "Let's Dynamically Struggle for a Final Victory, Holding Aloft the Banner of Songun" and "Let Us Effect Kim Jong Il's Patriotism and Step Up the Building of a Prosperous Country," giving perfect answers to the theoretical and practical problems arising in the building of a thriving nation at present.
Under the leadership of Kim Jong Un all affairs of the country were oriented to improving the people's living standard and building highly civilized socialist power.
Thanks to the advance for great surge in the efforts to improve the people's living standard many technologically updated light industrial factories and modern stockbreeding, fish breeding and large-scale fruit production bases began to pay off.
A dynamic drive was waged to radically increase the grain production by implementing the party's policy for agricultural revolution and positive measures were taken by the state in this respect.
A new grand nature-harnessing project is now under way to turn Sepho Tableland covering tens of thousands of hectares into a large- scale stockbreeding base and socialist land of bliss.
The successful launch of satellite Kwangmyongsong 3-2 marked an important occasion in putting the country's space science and technology for peaceful purposes on a new stage and dynamically accelerating the overall science and technology and economic development.
The enforcement of the universal 12-year compulsory education system, the enterprising and enthusiastic performing activities of Moranbong Band replete with the spirit of revolutionary creation, hot wind of a sports power that swept the country showed once again to the world the proud appearance of the DPRK advancing toward a highly civilized socialist power.
Kim Jong Un gave the first field guidance of the year to the Seoul Ryu Kyong Su 105 Guards Tank Division of the Korean People's Army on the New Year's day, guided the flying training of the air and anti-air units and paid ceaseless visits to units of all services and arms including naval and strategic rocket forces. This has increased the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK in every way.
The atmosphere of achieving the national reconciliation and unity and the country's reunification has mounted as ever before and the DPRK's international prestige has remarkably risen.
The past one year's struggle waged by the DPRK under the leadership of Kim Jong Un helped the country demonstrate to the world the honor and dignity as the great Paektusan nation which shines with the sun, and cement the revolutionary ranks, the report concluded.