Since Kim Jong Un came into power, a large
portion of North Koreans have seen their livelihoods improve–some marginally,
others drastically– due to the lack of control on market activities, but the
leadership has instilled a sense of uncertainty about the future for Party
cadres, many of whom feel purges and executions of high-level officials are summarily decided overnight. Kim’s iron grip has also added greater anxiety to the
general public’s trust in the stability of the system.
Over the course of four years, some 130
cadres from the Party, military, and government have been purged under Kim Jong
Un, according to South Korean intelligence. Growing fear among high-level
officials has reportedly led to more escapes and asylum cases from cadre and
diplomats. While turning a blind eye to market activities for members of the
public, in what appears to be Kim’s unique style of leadership, he has
unleashed a wave of executions and purges on cadre members with the goal of
drawing out their loyalty.
By relaxing restrictions on the markets, he
has been able to quell some disgruntlement from the public, but for cadre
members who can have a more direct impact on his leadership, Kim has enforced
his rule of intimidation. The calculation appears to be that even if people
lose a bit of loyalty about the system itself, a better livelihood can
encourage them to be satisfied with the status quo, whereas cadres can turn
into enemies anytime, hence the ruthless purge and execution of those that
appear to challenge his leadership in order to create greater stability.
“Some cadres say they’re losing weight
tiptoeing around Kim Jong Un, and they even hint that they want to defect by
saying they’d like to get away to somewhere else wherever it be,” a source from
Hamgyong Province who runs in pertinent circles reported to Daily NK.
“Compared to when Kim Jong Il was alive,
people are doing better in terms of getting by, but surveillance on the
political and ideological front has been amped up by many times the level in
the past. Some have even said they have no idea when they’ll be put on the
chopping block, so they would rather retire to trivial posts.”
To bolster his point, he recounted an
incident from last October, wherein a provincial Party cadre visited Pyongyang
to attend the 70th Party Foundation Day festivities and reported that a Central
Party cadre who had once been “very welcome to bribes and known to crack jokes
had suddenly become a very cold person.”
“The reality is that these cadres are treading
on ice worried that the smallest mistake they make might be considered
insubordinate,” he asserted.
This is particularly true for officials
overseeing trade with China, who harbor concerns about the growing mistrust
pervading the political arena while concurrently agonizing about their future
as their neighbor just over the river develops at lightning speed. “News of
other cadres being purged or penalized can act as the final catalyst in their
decisions to defect,” added a source from Yanggang Province.
A professor at a music college in the
South, who defected not so long ago from the North and would not be named,
explained that this year a cadre at the Central Party level escaped, while the
whereabouts of a trade company head is also unknown.
“Following these incidents, people said
among themselves that regular people escape because they’re struggling to get
by or because they have family members that have defected and they don’t want
to live under surveillance. But when cadres start to defect, it means there are
problems with the state of politics,” she pointed out.