[Editorial] Signs from North Korea

The recent series of defections by North Koreans have serious implications for South Korea, which is obliged to assess the situation in the North correctly and work out countermeasures in the short, middle and long terms.

First of all, the latest defections indicate that there are growing cracks in the North셲 ruling elite. This may be an early sign of the North Korean system crumbling at the top.

There had been cases of North Korean defections involving high-profile figures — like Workers Party secretary Hwang Jang-yop. But unlike those isolated cases, the recent series of defections involve senior officials from all the North셲 key institutions — the government, ruling party and the military.

It is especially noteworthy that the latest North Korean defectors include those from the heart of its governing apparatus. One example is a senior officer, with a rank between a colonel and brigade general, of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a powerful intelligence agency, who came to Seoul last year.

The group of former senior North Korean officials who resettled in the South recently also include three officials of a Workers Party office which handles a secret fund for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The two offices form the core of Kim셲 clandestine governing system and Kim fills the offices with people he trusts. That such key members of Kim셲 inner circles began abandoning him may mean dissent among the North Korean elite is growing against the harsh rule of the young dictator.

The dissent among the ruling elite is evidence that they are fed up with — or scared of — Kim셲 reign of terror that he has been exercising to preserve his dynastic rule of the communist country.

Kim is as ruthless a leader as his grandfather and father, having executed about 70 senior officials and generals since he took power in 2011. Victims of Kim셲 bloody purge included his own uncle, who had acted as his de facto No. 2.

If the continuing defections of senior officials can be seen as a sign of growing unrest in the North셲 ruling elite, the defection of 13 North Koreans who were working at a restaurant in China has additional implications — regarding the international sanctions against the North셲 nuclear and missile provocations.혻혻

North Korea runs about 130 restaurants overseas, whose earnings are believed to go to Kim셲 secret safe and weapons development programs. In line with the sanctions, South Koreans — who are major customers of the restaurants — are staying away from them, which is putting a financial strain on the North Korean workers whose duty is to send hard currency to Kim by all means.

This shows that the sanctions are taking a toll on the Kim regime and that the pressure must be kept up. Doing so, of course, requires flawless preparations for possible contingencies — like increase in the number of defectors and additional military provocations. Longer-term plans should get us ready to cope with an implosion or a similar sudden change in the North.