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Posted : 2013-12-04 17:07
Updated : 2013-12-04 17:07

Power struggle in North

Calm, careful preparations needed for any incidents                                         

It may still be too early to say but a shakeup in North Korea’s central power structure seems to be underway. And, if reports from the National Intelligence Service reports are accurate, Kim Jong-un has just brought down Jang Song-thaek, widely known as the No. 2 man in the reclusive regime and the young leader’s one-time mentor, days before his second anniversary in office. 

Given the closed, opaque nature of the isolationist regime, the why and how of Jang’s alleged downfall are shrouded in mystery. However, at least two things appear to be quite predictable. 

Whether Jang lost in a power struggle to his competitors, including military leaders, or simply fell out of favor with the third-generation Kim, the exit of this moderate, economic expert is bad news for those who hope Pyongyang will move toward greater reform and openness.   

Also, by throwing his guardian ― or regent ― off the stage, the 30-something leader will consolidate his power even further, no longer tolerating the existence of a No. 2 person any longer, although few can tell for now how Kim’s "self-reliance” just two years after taking the helm will change the North’s policy directions, internally and externally, and how it will affect the already chilling inter-Korean relationship. 

There is little, if anything that South Korea can do about what’s happening in the other half of this peninsula, except to prepare, in calm but careful ways, for any unexpected situations there. Most worrisome is the possibility that Pyongyang will become even more isolated and aggressive, and pursue military  provocations ― either nuclear or missile tests or trigger limited armed clashes with the South ― to create enemies abroad and/or demonstrate Kim’s strengthened leadership. 

The Defense Ministry’s observation that the North is stepping up its military preparedness supports these ominous speculations. 

That said, Seoul may not have to be unduly pessimistic about the latest developments in Pyongyang, or unnecessarily provoke the predictably sensitive North Korean leadership. With or without Jang, or any other temporary North Korean bigwigs who can’t help but vanish after they become useless for the Kim family, the South needs to push ahead with vigorous initiatives for more exchanges and cooperation, zeroing in on the one ultimate decision-maker in Pyongyang, while maintaining perfect preparedness against any provocations. 

A prerequisite in this regard is the gathering of correct intelligence on the secretive regime, especially changes in its power structure, which means the state spy agency can ill afford to pay attention to domestic politics but should return to its ''normal” work. We hope in this vein the rumors will prove to be groundless that the agency has timed the announcement of its latest report to coincide with the scheduled launch of a special parliamentary committee to reform the NIS in ways that would drastically reduce its power and authority and keep it from meddling in domestic politics and elections. 

President Park Geun-hye for her part should show broader leadership to form a bipartisan front in coping with matters of national security. Depending on how Park performs in this matter, she could turn the sudden change situation into an opportunity to improve inter-Korean ties. 


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