January 11, 2016 11:45
A clip showing North Korea's Army politburo chief Hwang Pyong-so kneeling before leader Kim Jong-un has baffled pundits, who consider Hwang the second most powerful man in the secretive state.
The footage, aired prominently on state-run [North] Korean Central TV on Saturday, shows Kim and Hwang at a gathering of artillery troops in Pyongyang on Dec. 3.
In the clip, Hwang is first seen sitting next to Kim. But then he moves closer as if he had something to tell him, and presently goes down on his knees.
Pundits have always said that Hwang's position seems oddly precarious, which they have variously attributed to Kim's autocratic temperament or his determination to bring the unruly military to heel.
Last April, they spent many hours pondering a clip in which Hwang is seen walking one step ahead of Kim during a rally but then, perhaps realizing his faux-pas, looks visibly discomfited and swiftly moves behind him and extends his arms to guide the young leader.
One source said state TV now regularly edits in such scenes "to show that Kim is in absolute charge and generate loyalty among ordinary people."
North Korea has seen a spate of sometimes brutal purges since Kim came to power and began to assert himself among the vested interests left behind by his father Kim Jong-il, who implemented the disastrous "military-first" doctrine.
The official reason for the purges has often been "disloyalty" or insubordination to the leader. Army Chief Ri Yong-ho fell foul of the brand-new leader in 2012, when he stood boldly next to Kim during a visit to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where the embalmed bodies of nation founder Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are displayed.
Former eminence grise Jang Song-taek, Kim's uncle, was accused of "applauding without zeal" during a ceremony led by Kim and brutally executed.
The implication was that the two men had grown too big for their boots in other respects, Ri by flaunting military privilege and Jang by sowing up most business with China for himself.
A researcher at a state-run think tank said, "Kim Jong-un takes issue with the fine points of senior officials' behavior because he feels his grip on power is insecure."
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