Night Watch

North Korea: Since the execution of Chang Sung-taek, North Korean behavior has been a study in contrasts. In an effort to project normal economic relations, on Friday North Korea made overtures to South Korea and China.

Officials at Kaesong industrial complex proposed a new round of talks on 19 December aimed at advancing the restoration of normality at the complex. They agreed to permit a delegation of officials from the G20 economic group to tour Kaesong also on the 19th.

As for China, North Korea signed an agreement to construct a high-speed rail line linking northwestern North Korea with northeastern China.

On 14 December, the BBC and other news outlets reported that North Korea has ordered North Korean business people in China to return to North Korea. The announcement provided no reason but presumably they will all be interrogated for their connections to the late Chang..

On 15 December, North Korea announced that Kim Jong Un's aunt Kim Kyong-hui was named to a position on the state funeral committee for a deceased official.

Comment: Chang Sung-taek was reputed to be close to Chinese authorities and businessmen as well as to South Korean businesses. The recall suggests that the North is uprooting Chang's network of associated and contacts. This is a normal step in a purge and has happened multiple times in North Korea's past.

The prominent announcement about Kim Kyong-hui, who is the sister of the late Kim Chong-il, indicates that no blood relatives of Kim Jong Un are implicated in Chang's treason. Chang was an uncle by marriage. Thus, the Kim blood line remains unsullied by counter-revolutionary impulses. That is the message, but it certainly is not the truth.

Maintenance of normal economic or any kind of relations would be unusual. The North Korean bureaucracy is small with every important decision made by a despot. North Korea has never shown that it can manage more than one crisis or major development at a time. The promise to do so this time should provide insights as to the leadership's management competence and style.

Chinese reaction. At Friday's daily Foreign Ministry press conference, a reporter asked the following question."First, two DPRK (North Korean) vice premiers reportedly sought asylum in China not long ago. Can you confirm this?"

The spokesman denied he had heard of such a development.


Night Watch

NightWatch is an internationally acclaimed nightly newsletter that tracks and assesses threats to US national security. It has an edgy, executive style unlike any other summary of its kind.