Expert predicts further purges of North Korean officials if economic situation worsens

Lee Sang Yong  |  2017-12-22 16:38
Two top officials at North Korea's General Political Bureau were recently reported to have been purged from their positions. Hwang Pyong So, director of the bureau and seen a military heavyweight, reportedly received a demotion, while his deputy Kim Won Hong was sent for re-education. 
  
Director of the North Korea Research Center at the Institute for National Security Strategy Lee Ki Dong spoke about the demotions with reporters in South Korea on December 18 noting that after Hwang Pyong Sos demotion, he has been working in another government department. This leaves open the possibility of him making a comeback, especially given his valuable years of experience and knowledge.
 
"The other man, Kim Won Hong, was sent to work on a farm and is undergoing reeducation. It is possible that his family has also been sent with him, which would be unusual," Lee continued. 
 
Details regarding new assignments or the severity of the punishment were not originally revealed in last month's presentation by South Korea's National Intelligence Service' (NIS) to the National Assembly. 
 
When the Party deems the actions of a government official 'anti-revolutionary,' they are typically sent for reeducation, working and receiving ideological training either at a farm, factory, or local Workers' Party school. This would mark the second such sentence of reeducation for Kim Won Hong this year. 
 
"Kim Won Hong's demotion from the Ministry of State Security (in early 2017) for corruption, coupled with this latest demotion, probably means that it will be difficult for him to make a comeback after this," Lee said.
 
Lee predicts that purges of military officials and other elite figures will continue into next year, saying that if economic conditions worsen, it is likely the officials in charge of economic policy will be scapegoated and punished as well. 
 
The high likelihood of continuing purges for high-ranking officials, Lee said, may stem from anti-corruption directives given at the 7th Party Congress in 2016.
 
"The same thing happened in the 1990s, when Minister of Agriculture So Kwan Hui was scapegoated and subsequently executed for allegedly causing the country's great famine. Today, elite officials such as Premier Pak Pong Ju and Workers' Party Vice Chair Ahn Jong Su (in charge of economic matters) may become targets of the regime in a similar manner," Lee added. 
 
Following the September passage of UN Resolution 2375 imposing more sanctions on North Korea, Lee believes that North Korea will begin to experience greater economic losses in March of next year, since "it usually takes anywhere from 6 months to 1 year for economic sanctions to take effect." 
 
He further noted, "North Korea's overspending on its weaponry to contend with America's heightened threat of military action will catch up with them in the form of an economic downturn next March."

*Translated by Colin Zwirko

 
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