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[Opinion] Chang Song Taek of North Korea

Posted December. 17, 2004 23:04,   


Former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai is a glaring example of the “second most prominent leader” in modern history. In contrast to other eminent leaders like Liu Shaoqi and Lin Bao who were purged after confronting Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai survived and continued his political career beside Mao for as many as 40 years by using his own strategy not to stand out more than Mao. Incumbent Chinese President Hu Jintao rose to become a top leader of the country from his previous post as the second leader under Jiang Zemin’s rule. His success was a result of his strategy to keep a low profile to such an extent that he wasn’t known to the international community for quite a long time even after his appointment as vice president back in 1998.

The second most prominent leader should pay extra attention in conducting careful behavior. If he keeps too high a profile, he’s likely to be detested by the man of power. If he sits back and does nothing brilliant, chances are he will be ridiculed by the public. Therein lies the reason why successful second leaders in history were masters of the art of living. The key was to be an amphibious leader who refrained from displaying his ambition but at the same time left a marked impression on the public. Orchestral conductor Leonard Bernstein’s remark, “The hardest instrument to play in an orchestra is the second violin,” can be interpreted in the same context.

Chang Song Taek of North Korea must have forgotten this rule for second leaders. Beginning last spring, rumors have had it that he was demoted. Not only that, there is also a rumor that he was sent to prison for political criminals. Who is Chang Song Taek? He is North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law and his credible right arm who has worked as vice minister of organization and directions, a key post in the Workers’ Party. If those rumors are substantiated, Chang, a candidate for Kim’s successor, must have done something very wrong.

The problem is that Chang’s purge will not stop as a mere individual’s misfortune. There have been serial observations this year that there seems to be something unusual going on in the North. If Chang Song Taek’s exit from the political stage signals upcoming changes in North Korea, shocks that accompany the transition will surely have serious implications on the South as well. We wonder how the South Korean government is looking at this specific issue. Only when we know what is going on in the North will we be able to brace ourselves for the serious consequences the North’s changes will have on us. The saying, “Providing is preventing,” should not be applied only to the military.

Song Moon-hong, Editorial writer, songmh@donga.com