Kim Jong Un’s absolute power on display

In order for North Korea to truly open up, Kim Jong Un must relinquish some of his own absolute power, SBS's Ahn Jong Sik argues

power kim

North Korea’s main decision-making body, the General Political Bureau (GPB), held a meeting at the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party headquarters in Pyongyang on Apr. 11.

Mindful of the coronavirus, the meeting was limited to only members and candidates of the GPB. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was in attendance flanked on both sides by Choe Ryong Hae and Pak Pong Ju, members of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC).

According to the Korean Central Television (KCTV) broadcast, topics of discussion included the coordination of national tasks in response to COVID-19 and issues regarding budgets and accounts. However, there was an interesting scene in which Choe Ryong Hae suddenly stood up from his chair as soon as Kim looked at him in the midst of conversation. Given his knee-jerk reaction, it seemed that Kim must have given an order to Choe in the middle of the meeting. Following suit, Pak Pong Ju automatically rose to his feet after a look from Kim as well. 

Born in 1950, Choe (70) serves as the highest-ranking member of the Korean Workers’ Party (KPW) Politburo Standing Committee, First Vice-Chairman of the State Council and the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly. Therefore, he is considered second-in-command under Kim Jong Un.

Pak Pong Ju (81), born in 1939, serves as a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and Vice-Chairman of the State Council. Following Kim and Choe, Pak ranks third in the Politburo Standing Committee. 

Despite Kim’s young age (estimated to be 36), the fact that with a simple gaze high-ranking officials equal to his father’s age would automatically rise to their feet demonstrates his status and power as the Supreme Leader of North Korea. Although there are many dictatorships around the world, the inviolable power Kim Jong Un possesses is the definition of absolute dictatorship. 

Therefore, his sheer power and status deter prospects for an open North Korea. Indeed, nuclear development and international sanctions against the country have made opening North Korea quite difficult. However, even if the nuclear issue were to be resolved, the idolization and deification of Kim Jong Un will likely remain an obstacle in terms of the North opening its doors.

“Opening” refers to information from the outside world flowing into North Korea. Although there is a limit to the amount of information that the regime can prevent from seeping in, this outside information would place a strain on Kim’s ability to maintain absolute power because it would expose the fictitious stories which have deified him. One of the main goals of organizations aiming to bring democracy to North Korea is to introduce outside information into the country. Why? Because the regime reacts sensitively to its people obtaining access to outside information. 

For now, a limited opening of North Korea may be possible, but one along the lines of China and Vietnam seems unrealistic. In order for the country to truly open up, Kim Jong Un must relinquish some of his own absolute power. The question is, has any dictator ever willingly relinquished power before? 

*Translated by Jason Bartlett

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