Bruce Klingner

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has not been seen in public for more than a month, generating speculation that his absence is due to failing health or political intrigue. Given the paucity of information, keeping track of Kim is tougher than winning at three-card monte, and the stakes are much higher: the potential instability of a nuclear-armed nation.

After Kim's notable absence from the important Supreme People's Assembly meeting Sept. 25, North Korea's official media announced the leader was suffering from “discomfort.” Kim has gained significant weight since his ascension to power two years ago, and the rotund leader had been observed limping during several public appearances during the summer.…  Seguir leyendo »

Pyongyang announced on December 12 the trial and execution of Jang Sung-taek, former vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission and uncle to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Although Kim has already purged hundreds of officials during his two year reign, Jang's ouster is highly unusual, even by North Korean standards.

Jang is married to the sister of the late leader Kim Jong-il and it had been expected he would be safe from a purge until after her death. In the past, when members of the North Korean senior leadership strata were purged, they usually simply stopped appearing in North Korean media.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kim Jong Un has further solidified his control over North Korea by reportedly purging his uncle Jang Sung-taek, Vice Chairman of the important Nation Defense Commission.

Although Jang was often referred to as the "second most powerful man in North Korea", he may now been ousted from the leadership elite for the third time. He has twice returned to the inner circle of power, but this cat may now have run out of lives.

What does the move say about the stability of North Korea? Some experts perceive a weak, embattled Kim feeling forced to fend off challengers. But it is more likely that Kim's purge of Jang -- as well as hundreds of other officials since 2011 -- shows that the North Korean ruler is firmly in control and confident enough to target even the most senior strata of power.…  Seguir leyendo »

It's time for South Korea to face facts: The Kaesong experiment has failed. The ideologically motivated joint business venture with North Korea known as the Kaesong industrial complex is not economically viable, nor has it achieved any of its political objectives. To protest recent sanctions against it, the North pulled its workers out this month and locked out workers from the South.

Seoul tried to engage North Korea to resolve the dispute, coupled with an uncharacteristic deadline and a warning of "grave consequences." When Pyongyang rejected a dialogue, South Korea announced on Friday that it would recall its remaining 175 workers.…  Seguir leyendo »

Pyongyang again disappointed those predicting it was about to change its ways. For months, experts and major media organizations have proclaimed imminent economic reform, even declaring that "North Korea has virtually abandoned the planned economy." A rare second Supreme People's Assembly this year could only mean codification of free-market principles, or so it was argued.

Yet the legislative assembly came and went in late September with nary a whisper of economic reform. What went wrong? There is a long history of grasping at North Korean straws. After the death of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung in 1994, many experts, including in the U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

Like a hapless baseball team forced to go to the bullpen for yet another relief pitcher, Japan has called up a new prime minister, its sixth in five years. Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the Democratic Party of Japan, or DPJ, is the latest iteration of what has become an annual ritual of Japanese leadership change. Prime Minister Naoto Kan, also of the DPJ, has been unceremoniously tossed aside, although his 15-month term will be remembered as relatively long by recent Japanese standards.

The DPJ has been plagued by an inability to produce, let alone implement, policies, even after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear cataclysms of March 11 had the populace clamoring for decisive leadership.…  Seguir leyendo »

Although fears of Pyongyang responding to South Korea's live-fire drills in the Yellow Sea are diminishing this week, the calm might be short-lived. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il may be planning a provocative act far away from the Northern Limit Line, a sea border drawn by the United Nations at the end of the Korean War. Once again, anonymous "observations of possible test preparation activity" are fueling speculation that North Korea will soon test another nuclear device. Maybe it will … but maybe not. Either way, Pyongyang will have succeeded in increasing international nervousness over what it's up to. North Korea views heightened international anxiety as a good thing, something that gives it leverage to move the United States and its allies to abandon their current high-pressure tactics.…  Seguir leyendo »