The introduction of Hyon Yong Chol as new Chosun People’s Army chief of staff at an event in Pyongyang yesterday marks the end of the ‘Lee Young Ho incident’. Analysts believe that the way the authorities moved to promote Hyon and install him as Lee’s replacement so soon after Lee’s dismissal also means the aftermath will not rumble on very long.
North Korea removed Lee from all his positions at a full Politburo meeting on Sunday, before promoting Hyon Young Chol, formerly known for his command of the elite 8th Corps, to vice marshal on Monday. Then Kim Jong Eun was made ‘marshal’ on Tuesday, the same day Hyon was causally introduced as chief of staff.
According to some analysts, the very fact that the whole process took less than 72 hours is a reflection of the stability and confidence of the Kim Jong Eun regime.
One anonymous expert from a South Korean state research institute declared that a power struggle is highly unlikely at this point, saying, “Now that Jang Sung Taek and Choi Ryong Hae hold most of the power in the Party and security forces, the military has been reduced to a paper tiger. The Kim Jong Il era military faction that Lee led may be discontented at that fact, but they’re unlikely to openly express it.”
He explained why, saying, “Kim Jong Il era factions have become fringe groups at the dawn of the Kim Jong Eun era, and in a totalitarian dictatorship like North Korea there has not been even a single case of fringe groups joining forces to resist the regime. It is not even imaginable.”
Moreover there are no signs of alternate trends in the elite at this time. This, a number of experts believe, is because the Politburo meeting on the 15th may not merely have been about Lee Young Ho, but was a discussion of the overall North Korean strategic direction.
Prof. Kim Yeon Soo of Korea National Defense University said, “The Politburo meeting had the character of an assessment of the Kim Jong Eun system at six months. Looking at it just from the perspective of a power struggle could be a little bit narrow-minded and unwise.”
He continued, “It is quite likely that the Politburo discussed ideas for following a reformist route at the meeting.”
However, Kim warned, “North Korea will follow the direction that Kim Jong Eun, Jang Sung Taek and Choi Ryong Hae decide for now but if there are no swift changes then there could be a deterioration.”