He may be more interested in Western-style entertainment than his predecessors but this does not mean any real opening or fundamental change in the regime.
1. North Korea replaced one top general with the other and the leader Kim Jong-un named himself a marshal, all of this in space of few days. How can one read such changes? Is it just a standard consolidation of power or was something more behind it?
2. Attending a Mickey Mouse show, showing himself with a young woman … does this mean that North Korea is changing and will be fundamentally different under Kim Jong-un? Or is this just on the surface and the regime will survive with only slight changes?
Virginie Grzelczyk, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, Nottingham Trent University
1. Kim Jong Un has slowly been placed to various key positions within the North Korean hierarchy and military. This process has been very similar to how his father, Kim Jong Il, himself gained more power in the past. The only difference now is that Kim Jong Un’s preparation for succeeding his father was shorter than from his grandfather Kim Il Sung to his father Kim Jong Il. The moves are aimed to placed Kim Jong Un in a ‘supreme’ or de-facto power position which is similar to a chess game: at some point and because of the various political and military roles that he possesses, Kim Jong Un collects all power and cannot be overruled or suffer a ‘check-mate’ situation.
The current change we are witnessing bears more domestic implications than international ones: for ‘us’ the outside world, Kim Jong Un is in power and stays in power. Domestically however, this highlight some new power lines and preferences, though one just cannot exclude the fact that the decision to remove Ri Yong-ho was indeed because of health: despite All it’s mystique, people do age, get ill and die in North Korea too…
2.Kim Jong Un is firmly in place, but he has recently started to ‘court’ the younger generation much more, as he himself must realise that the younger generations that have not been basked and brought under Kim Il Sung will need more ‘motivation’ to stay within the realm of the regime, now that technologies and international relations such as the upcoming Olympic games allow North Koreans more contact with the outside world. Kim Jong Un knows that his legitimacy is very tiny at this point, and is only linked to his family, though his rise through the hierarchy is aimed to consolidate this position, hence a degree of openness will be necessary if he wants to appease potential discontentment.
Charles Armstrong, Associate Professor of Korean Studies, Director of the Center for Korean Research, Columbia University
1. The dismissal of General Ri seems to show Kim Jong-un is distancing himself from the old guard established under his father and is consolidating his own power base.
2. Kim Jong-un may be more interested in Western-style entertainment than his predecessors but this does not mean any real opening or fundamental change in the regime. Basically the North Korean system remains unchanged, with some minor adjustments and perhaps a slight cultural opening. But it is still a very closed society in which ordinary people have little contact with the outside world, and the economy does not show signs of significant reform.