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Exile requests by North Korean officials could rise after Kim Jong Nam's death

Kang Mi Jin  |  2017-02-20 16:36
How will the assassination of Kim Jong Nam affect Kim Jong Uns regime? The murder of Kim Jong Ils eldest son, and therefore a member of the legitimizing Paektu bloodline, is likely to send shockwaves through the population, particularly cadres in the upper echelons of power.

Cadres have long held discrete complaints over Kim Jong Un's reign of terror but feign loyalty out of fear. This suggests that the 'true loyalists' of Kim Jong Un will further decline as the leader has presumably executed his half-brother Kim Jong Nam in addition to his uncle Jang Song Thaek.

Many are pointing out that Kim Jong Un has demonstrated his cruel characteristics with a series of executions of family members counter to the principle of blood is thicker than water. These acts are likely to further deepen existing fissures in the system rather than consolidating it, accelerated by the anxiety of cadres who feel uncertain about their future.

The murder of Kim Jong Nam may also arouse doubts about the legitimacy of the regime. North Korean residents are likely to ponder the rationale behind his demise and raise questions about Kim Jong Un's origin of birth and identity.  

If North Korea is further isolated due to measures by the international community such as designation as a terrorist state, there is a possibility that grievances amongst the population will amplify with the murder of the Suryongs (Kim Il Sung) grandson and Kim Jong Uns failure to improve living conditions for the people.

Cho Bong Hyun, Deputy Director of IBK Economic Research Institute

It is highly likely that the incident will serve to promote cracks in the system rather than consolidating it. The authorities will try to deny that they were responsible for Kim Jong Nam's assassination but the residents will find it hard to believe them. As a result, loyalty to Kim Jong Un is expected to fall and the atmosphere of fear will spread as people realize that, 'If he can kill his own brother, he can kill ordinary people like us anytime.' This may also lead to doubts about the regime's legitimacy. Residents may think, 'If there is no legitimacy problem, why would they need to kill Kim Jong Nam?,' or 'Kim Jong Un must have killed Kim Jong Nam out of fear that he could be replaced.'

In view of recent circumstances, it seems that more incidents of an improvisational nature are occurring rather than as part of an overall policy with careful planning. It is therefore necessary to envision a strategy that dissuades the North Korean regime from acting recklessly in front of the international community.

Lee Soo Seok, Senior Research Fellow of the Institute for National Security Strategy

Kim Jong Un seems to have regarded Kim Jong Nam as his most dangerous threat, thinking that he may challenge his power. Also, he must have thought that if Kim Jong Nam, who is well aware of the secrets of the regime, is exiled to and/or works closely with South Korea or the West, it will have serious consequences for North Korea.

But the murder is likely to have a negative effect on the Kim Jong Un regime. It will enhance the anxiety felt among cadre members and the number of requests for exile is expected to increase. In addition, the incident could drive further rifts between the people and the regime.

A high-ranking North Korean defector who previously worked at an overseas embassy

After the execution of Jang Song Thaek, there was a shift in cadres opinions of Kim Jong Un.  If he can kill his uncle, he can certainly kill people like us, was the predominant thought. This suggests that the more Kim Jong Un tries to strengthen fearpolitik, the more the people of North Korea will despise him.

In North Korea, many officials frequently told me that they would escape if they had the chance. So the possibility that cadres will secretly revolt against the regime, fearing they may become the next target of a purge, cannot be excluded.

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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