Kim Jong-un Gets Splendid New Military Title

North Korean soldiers dance in the plazas of Pyongyang on Wednesday after leader Kim Jong-un was given the title of marshal. /AP-Yonhap North Korean soldiers dance in the plazas of Pyongyang on Wednesday after leader Kim Jong-un was given the title of marshal. /AP-Yonhap

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was named a marshal on Wednesday. A notice on state TV and radio in the morning promised an "important announcement" at noon, when they reported that the decision was made jointly by the four key power organs -- the Workers Party's Central Committee, the Workers Party's Central Military Commission, the National Defense Commission, and the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly.

Regime founder Kim Il-sung and Kim's father Kim Jong-il both held marshal titles of some description, but the top active military officers are vice marshals. The announcement therefore reinforces Kim Jong-un’s position at the top of the military amid what appears to be a purge of troublesome top brass.

Kim Jong-un, who is only 29, was made a four-star general on Sept. 27, 2010.

"I've never heard of a 20-something young man being given the rank of a marshal in any country in the world," a South Korean government official said. "It seems that Kim Jong-un is in a hurry to get a firm grip on the military."

North Korea experts believe Kim's promotion is closely related to the sudden sacking of army chief Ri Yong-ho.

Chung Sung-jang of the Sejong Institute said, "The North Korean military could become restive after Ri's sudden dismissal, and by awarding himself the rank of marshal Kim Jong-un may have wanted to give the impression of greater authority."

There is some speculation that the regime will have more wiggle room to introduce economic reforms if it breaks the stranglehold of the hardline reactionary military. One reason may be that the party elite, which consists of relatively younger technocrats, is trying to wrest projects to earn hard currency from the military, which has previously monopolized them, according to an informed source.

But a Unification Ministry official dismissed the speculation. "There's a slim chance that Kim Jong-un will decide on his own to reform and open up the country," he said. "If the regime comes up with something, it will be a one-off event aimed at luring foreign investment."

Meanwhile, it was confirmed that Hyon Yong-chol, who was promoted to vice marshal the previous day, has also been appointed as new army chief. State-run broadcasters introduced Hyon as the "chief of the People's Army's General Staff" when they showed recorded footage of an army rally in Pyongyang that day to celebrate Kim's promotion.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jul. 19, 2012 07:28 KST