History Flows: déjà vu of Koguryo’s downfall in North Korea?
January 21, 2014
Since 1948, North Korea has been run by the de-facto ‘Kim dynasty,’ from the founder Kim Il-sung to his son Kim Jong-il and finally to his grandson Kim Jong-un. The recent purge of Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek by shocking capital punishment proves again that the North is a dynasty, not a modern socialist state. This drama also indicates that Pyongyang has engaged in a power struggle within the Kim regime. Kim may have consolidated his grip of power in the short term by executing his regent and a potential rival who had close ties to China, but in the long term he has erred in destabilizing his power base by antagonizing China.
Although Pyongyang is closer to Beijing than any capitals in the world, the bloody removal of political enemies through Stalinist-style purging reminds us that North Korea’s one-man dictatorship is unlike China’s collective leadership of the Communist Party, which has abstained from killing political opponents since the Cultural Revolution. Current Chinese president Xi Jinping had a summit with South Korea’s new President Park Geun-hye in June 2013, but he has yet to meet with his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un. The brutal execution of Jang, who actually presided over trade with China as a ‘reformer,’ notably through his handling of special economic zones between the two traditional allies, will resonate negatively between Pyongyang and Beijing.