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Ri’s removal may help stabilize North Korea

(Global Times)

08:43, July 18, 2012

North Korea's officials KCNA news agency reported Monday that army chief Ri Yong-ho, a top military chief, has been removed from all posts due to "illness," according to a decision made during a meeting on Sunday by the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Worker's Party of Korea. Some Western media interpreted this as a domestic struggle between reformers and conservatives in Pyongyang. This is an overly simple interpretation. Howsoever, regular major change of personnel will be a political test for Kim Jong-un as a national leader.

Since Kim assumed the top leadership position, many changes have taken place in North Korea, inferred from some details such as costumes and performances. But it's too early to tell who are the reformers or who are the conservatives judging from those changes. However, Ri's removal could be within expectations. His disappearance could make Pyongyang's policies more clear and steady.

The background of this switch deserves attention. Since the beginning of this year, North Korea's policies have been inconsistent.

For instance, Pyongyang resumed talks with the US in late February and reached a favorable agreement, according to which, North Korea would stop nuclear and missile tests while the US would provide food assistance. However, North Korea suddenly announced its satellite launch in March. It firmly struck to the decision despite of the US envoy's mediation. Although the launch ended in failure, it led to the cancellation of the agreement between Pyongyang and the US.

It seems that some forces in North Korea don't want to see an improving relationship with the US. They act against any possibility of reform by promoting nuclear test and continuing tough domestic and foreign policies.

There are similar actions. The Choson Sinbo reported in April that Pyongyang would conduct a third nuclear test. Information agencies of countries like the US, Japan, South Korea and Russia all observed some traces. However, in mid-May, North Korea declared it didn't have a nuclear plan. This suggests that North Korea is divided as to whether nuclear tests should be continued.


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