Young North Korean leader takes control of economy from military
After purge of top general, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un moves to adopt China's model, opening up the economy and making farm reforms.
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"This should not come as a surprise. Kim Jong-un appears to have done considerable study on this (reform), taken a lot of lessons, and is probably trying to mold it in a way that suits their situation and in a way that blends with the existing policy. Ri's departure has a lot to do with this process," said Korea University professor Yoo Ho-yeol, speaking from Seoul.Skip to next paragraph
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He predicted that Jang would increasing press ahead with joint-venture projects with China, the only major ally to which the North can turn for economic help.
But Zhang Lianggui, a North Korea expert at China's Central Party School, was skeptical.
"You can see this from the repeated criticisms of reform and opening up that appear in the Rodong Sinmun (North Korean party newspaper). They openly criticize any moves in this direction. North Korea is quite indignant when it comes to this point."
North Korea's cabinet has created a "political bureau" designed to wrest power from the 1.2 million-strong military in order to run the economy, which has been in shambles after a crippling famine in the 1990s, the source said.
"In the past, the cabinet was empty with no say in the economy. The military controlled the economy, but that will now change," the source said.
Kim Jong-un has set up an "economic reform group" in the ruling Workers' Party to look at agricultural and economic reforms, the source said, adding that North Korea will learn from its giant neighbor and solitary benefactor, China.
Beijing leaders are thought to have been pressing Pyongyang to do more to reform the economy, worried that a collapse of the North could send refugees streaming across its border, and cause the loss of a strategic buffer to South Korea and the large contingent of U.S. troops which help protect it.
It was unclear who will head the cabinet's "political bureau" and the party's "economic reform group", but change was inevitable, the source said.
In sharp contrast to the austere, reclusive image of his father, state media have shown Kim Jong-un visiting fun fairs, speaking in public and applauding at a rock concert.
Women appear to have been given more freedoms, including wearing short skirts, although 200,000 people are in prison camps in the impoverished and isolated country.
The source dismissed speculation of any political fallout from the purge, saying: "Kim Jong-un and Jang Song-thaek are in control of the military."
Jang has long been seen as a proponent of reform of an economy which through mismanagement has entirely missed out on the fruits of dramatic growth of neighbours like China and South Korea.
His push for reform was widely seen as having triggered a period of exile but he was later rehabilitated and given the primary role of supporting Kim Jong-il's son when he was being groomed to eventually take over the leadership.
North Korea has yet to name Ri's replacement as head of the army, the source said.
It was unclear how many of Ri's men have been sacked, but the source said they have not been jailed. An assessment of the changes by the South Korean government seen by Reuters, said that some 20 top officials had been purged since Kim Jong-un began his ascent to power. (Additional reporting by Sabrina Mao in Beijing and Jack Kim in Seoul; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)
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