Prior to his departure to Singapore for the historic US-NK summit, Kim Jong Un took measures to reduce the possibility of a political crisis during his absence, taking several drastic preventive measures including the confiscation of mobile phones from high-ranking officials.
“Kim Jong Un placed the country in heavy lockdown before leaving for the talks with the United States to prevent subversion, in other words, a political crisis that would threaten his rule,” a source in Hamgyong Province told Daily NK by phone on June 19.
“Kim Jong Un took the Command No. 1 Chiefs of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party and Minister of the People’s Armed Forces with him to Singapore because he believed that they could potentially mobilize the armed forces and plot against him. This was interpreted as an extreme measure to eliminate any possibility of anti-political groups plotting a revolt during his absence.”
No Kwang Chol, the newly-appointed Minister of the People’s Armed Forces, was seen on camera in uniform several times during Kim’s visit to Singapore. This was considered unusual, as Kim was not accompanied by military figures for his two previous visits to China.
“Before Kim left for Singapore, he dispatched personnel from the Ministry of State Security to all companies under military units to keep them under surveillance. As a result, all military officers and personnel in North Korea were only to follow the orders given by the Ministry of State Security from the moment Kim departed the country, and had to live under heavy restrictions during the summit period,” the source said.
“The Ministry of State Security did not allow soldiers to go home and kept all of them at their units, observing every movement to make sure nobody was even making eye contact with another person. They didn’t even let the soldiers turn off the lights when sleeping at night to keep people from whispering in the dark.”
According to a separate source in South Hamgyong Province, Kim Jong Un also took steps to thwart senior officials in Pyongyang from contacting each other and plotting against him by confiscating the mobile phones of all officials at the department head level and above.
This source said that the seizure of the senior officials’ mobile phones began with Kim’s departure to Singapore and ended immediately after Kim returned to Pyongyang in the morning of the 13th.
After it was confirmed that the US-NK summit would take place in Singapore through the social media account of the White House Press Secretary, attention was drawn to who would be in charge of North Korea during Kim’s absence, and whether that person would be able to properly maintain internal control and administration of the country.
However, the way North Korean media reported on — in an exceptionally swift manner — how Kim Jong Un followed through his schedule without problem, from his arrival in Singapore with a large entourage to his late-night stroll in the downtown area, has led to speculation that “North Korea is trying to prove that they are confident in maintaining regime stability even in Kim’s absence.”
Still, the regime appears to have implemented thorough and systematic controls and surveillance at the time.
Daily NK released an article on June 11 in relation to Kim Jong Un’s visit to Singapore, reporting that North Korea had issued a special security decree to strengthen security in the border regions which lasted until June 12, the date of the US-NK summit. Daily NK also reported on the tense atmosphere in North Korea due to the authorities tightening restrictions and cracking down on resident movement during Kim’s overseas visit.