North Korea's generational power shift: Kim puts young in important posts

Lee Sang Yong  |  2018-04-10 15:22
Anti-espionage officers, operating under the auspices of the Korean Peoples Army Defense Security Command, is carrying out a generational transition by bringing in college graduates in their twenties to join its ranks. The team is responsible for providing espionage and security support. 

With an active diplomatic agenda, including a surprise trip to China and upcoming summits with South Korea and the US, the regime is in dire need of such personnel. In the midst of a rapidly changing geopolitical environment, the country is modifying the makeup of the KPAs anti-espionage team.

Recently, Kim Jong Un issued a special order to place loyal and high performing graduates of Security University and Political Security University in the countrys intelligence agency and Defense Security Command. First, the anti-espionage members deployed overseas were changed, and now team members in Pyongyang and other regions have almost all been switched over," a high-ranking source in Pyongyang told Daily NK on April 4.

The order emphasized that it is necessary to have young and skilled support members running things, as the anti-espionage team acts as the indomitable bodyguards for the top leadership. The order also indicated that we need to focus on building overseas teams that put talent and ability first."

When asked about the reason for the transition, the source characterized it as a Kim Jong Un-style generational change. Kim Jong Un wants to break out of the patterns shaped by his predecessors. This includes making a meaningful change to the makeup of the officers responsible for protecting the regime. The generational shift is also seen as an attempt to consolidate power.   

Kim Jong Un regularly commands that fifty and sixty year old agents be replaced by younger entrants. He believes that older people are unable to handle incidents well, the source said.

There are also observers who believe the motivation for this type of order could be explained by a concern that the older generation could be expressing loyalty but harboring dissent on the inside.  

Anti-espionage officers have been ordered to conduct more foreign currency activities because of international sanctions. Staff have been unhappy as a result. Recognizing this, the authorities are trying to recruit new officers for these duties as a way to cover up the frustration," said a separate source in Pyongyang.

Perhaps because of this, the authorities are prioritizing loyalty over songbun [class ranking denoted by family history and political loyalty] when evaluating the candidates. Next, they are carefully looking at each applicants skills related to espionage."

A source in South Pyongan Province added that Kim Jong Uns hurried attempt to fulfill a generational change in key posts may also be seen as a preemptive measure to ensure that the countrys younger generation does not drift away ideologically. By placing power in the hands of the jangmadang (market) generation, he may be seeking to placate individuals who generally care more about material wealth than ideological purity. 

[Kim Jong Un] recognizes that young people have an appetite for wealth and power, and this can be seen as a move to satisfy those desires. He believes greater loyalty from the younger generation will arise as a result, he concluded.
 
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