North Korea, #1 on the World Watch List for the 12th consecutive year, is experiencing some unprecedented changes. The god-like status of the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-Un, and his predecessors leaves no room for any other religion, and the worship of this family dynasty has gone unquestioned for decades.
Since the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un’s recent hospitalization, and failure to make a public appearance since early September; speculations are flying about the implications concerning the power of the dynasty. Since his disappearance, high-ranking officials have stepped into the limelight without giving public tribute to their Supreme Leader. In the past, this behavior was unheard of; those who dared to even hint at thinking differently than the ruling leader were either imprisoned or put to death.
The latest developments confirm what many already believe: Kim Jong-Un is no longer holding absolute power. Though this does not mean that the North Korean regime is about to crumble, it does provide validity to rumors of divisions.
Former North Korean propaganda poet and high-ranking official, Jang Jin-sung, offered an analysis of how the North Korean delegation, which attended the closing ceremony of the Asia Games, failed to pay sufficient reverence towards their Supreme Leader. For example, Hwang Pyong-so, the country’s number two, came to Seoul with suited bodyguards, while only the leader is supposed to have visible security. “A blunt and arrogant demonstration of power,” Jang says.
A smiling Hwang also informed reporters that Kim Jong-Un was “well”, but any questions about the leader’s health should have provoked an enraged response. Inquiring about Kim’s well-being is normally viewed as insulting the Supreme Leader.
According to Jang and other analysts, North Korea appears to be in strategic disarray. One moment the country throws colorful insults to South Korea’s President Park, and yet a few days later, a delegation of high-ranking officials arrives in Seoul to talk. The lack of a coherent strategy does not mean the North Korean regime will implode soon. It does confirm the possibility that a powerful elite group holds the real power, but it needs Kim Jong-Un (or someone else of his bloodline) to legitimize their rule. At the same time, they are afraid that the inexperienced and untested Kim will make mistakes that will eventually lead to their downfall.
Even if the regime becomes more “multi-faced”, it is unlikely that this will lead to different policies. Because Hwang and others at the heart of North Korea’s powerbase want to preserve their power, a “China-like reform” is unlikely to occur. The execution of Kim Jong-Un’s uncle and guardian, Jang Song-Thaek (a friend of China), and a recent third nuclear test that disregarded China’s protests, has significantly cooled the relationship between the two countries. Hwang and other high-ranking delegates appearance in South Korea last week may have been an attempt to charm the South and other countries. China is still the North’s most important supporter, but for how long?
These recent developments indicate that North Korea will not abandon its nuclear ambitions, its military first policy, and its violations of human rights. The presentation of a different face does not change the character of the regime. For Christians in North Korea, this means that there will not be any significant changes anytime soon. Christians, as well as others viewed as political opponents, will continue to be fiercely persecuted and treated as enemies of the state.
If it is true that Kim Jong-Un no longer holds absolute power; it does not mean that the regime will become more vulnerable. “We need to be prepared for every scenario,” says the Open Doors’ coordinator for North Korea. “And we need to pray. This is a very urgent time for prayers.”
Father, we pray for North Korea in the sure knowledge that You are sovereign over the nations, even over Kim Jong-Un and others who do not acknowledge Your existence. We pray that You will touch the hearts of North Korean leaders; that You will soften their hearts toward their people and draw them into Paul-like conversions. We pray that You will break the power of the forces of evil bringing about changesoonand that prisons and labor camps will be dismantled and people will truly be free. We pray for godly wisdom for the international community as it considers how to deal prudently with North Korea. We pray for the underground church there, forced into fear and isolation, that they will grow in their knowledge of You and their relationship to Christ. Make Your presence known to them in tangible ways, and overwhelm their fear with Your peace as they seek to walk with You in the midst of circumstances beyond our comprehension. We also pray for the work of Open Doors; channels of Your loving work in strengthening beleaguered North Korean believers in their faith. In the name of Jesus, the only object of our worship and faith, Amen.