REFILE-ANALYSIS-Kim reshuffles serve to keep North Korean elite in line as crises escalate

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(Corrects the spelling in the title)

* Staff changes reported during meetings

* Serve as a warning that failures could endanger the system

* With few details released, analysts are looking for clues

SEOUL, July 1 (Reuters) – What could be the most significant reshuffle of top North Korean officials in years by leader Kim Jong Un serves as a warning to the ruling elite, analysts, including those who ‘he accused this week of causing a “great crisis” with failures of the coronavirus.

Kim called a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea’s political bureau on Tuesday and berated some party leaders for dereliction of duty, including failure to implement long-term measures to combat the pandemic, official media reported.

State media, often the only source of information on the functioning of the secret country, did not specify the nature of the crisis.

The rally included the election of new members of the political bureau and a secretary of the Party Central Committee, among other changes, although it is not clear whether all the ousted officials, who have not been identified, were reprimanded because of coronavirus failures.

The changes came 10 days after state media reported that Kim used another big meeting to tighten the discipline of the ruling party and appoint new members of his powerful political bureau.

“The frequency of these meetings and the staff changes are somewhat extraordinary,” said Michael Madden, leadership specialist at US-based Project 38 North, which focuses on North Korea.

Irregular political rallies and staff attrition in an authoritarian regime like North Korea can foreshadow things like fundamental state apparatus failure or unstable political transitions, he said.

“North Korean political culture is not at this stage right now, but things like this Political Bureau meeting are being organized to warn North Korean elites that their behavior could endanger the overall cohesion of the regime, which would threaten their political positions and the advantages they high function, ”Madden said.

It seemed like the biggest upheaval since a 2013 purge that saw Kim order the execution of his uncle, but his power base remains strong with many other officials to call upon, Thae Yong-ho, a former North diplomat. -Korean who has defected to the South. Korea where he is now a legislator, said in an analysis.

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Since last year, Kim has been waging a war on corruption and the lack of discipline within the party, including reshuffling senior officials in a way reminiscent of his early years in power when he consolidated power by replacing, constantly demoting or reinstating senior military officials, said Rachel Minyoung Lee, another 38 North specialist.

“He publicly demonstrates that those who do not follow directions and rules, and those who do not lead properly and achieve desired results will be fired or demoted, regardless of their rank in the ranks or how long they have been there.” are. their current position, ”she said.

Unusually, state media did not specify which officials were appointed or ousted this week, but some analysts said clues gleaned from state TV coverage suggested that vice-president Ri Pyong Chol Chairman of the Party’s Central Military Commission and member of the Politburo Standing Committee; Pak Jong Chon, army chief of staff and also member of the politburo; and Choe Sang Gon, party secretary and director of the science and education department, were among those fired.

“There is a possibility of personnel changes involving Ri Pyong Chol, Pak Jong Chon and Choe Sang Gon, as Ri and Pak were not seen participating in the voting process and Choe’s seat remained empty,” said an official from the South Korean Unification Ministry, which manages relations with the North, said on condition of anonymity.

Ri played a major role in North Korea’s ballistic missile program, and Madden said more meetings and events needed to be monitored in order to glean clues to his fate, but his sacking would be a major development.

“This would represent the biggest personnel change among the grassroots elite” in years, he said.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the Seoul University of North Korean Studies, said Ri and Pak may have been involved in the failed release of the military rice reserves, while Choe appeared to have been fired for failing. not having coordinated policy and communications regarding the pandemic.

“By revealing this at the politburo meeting, which is a key executive gathering, Kim appears to be sending a warning to all party officials and a message that he will hold them to account if they do wrong.” Yang said. (Reporting by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin)


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