The latest developments in North Korea indicate that the country has become even more unstable since former leader Kim Jong Il died two years ago.
Jang Song Thaek, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission who was regarded as the No. 2 man in the Kim Jong Un regime, was sentenced to death for allegedly trying to take power by staging a military coup. He was executed the same day, just four days after he was ousted from all his posts and expelled from the Workers' Party of Korea.
These developments illustrate the coldhearted nature of Kim — the ruling party's first secretary — who is trying to strengthen his dictatorship through a reign of terror that included liquidating his uncle, in the apparent belief that without doing so he would not be able to maintain control of the country.
North Korea's state-run media reported the sentence, handed down at a special military court of the State Security Department — the country's secret police — accusing Jang of attempting to bring about the collapse of the country's economy and people's livelihoods. It also said that if the state was driven to the verge of collapse, Jang believed he could grab the reins of power.
Jang was accused in court of a diverse range of crimes, including an act of treason by cheaply selling off the country's land with a 50-year lease to a foreign country — land in a special economic and trade zone in Rason near its borders with China and Russia — and triggering tremendous economic confusion with the redenomination of the currency four years ago.
To what extent these accusations are true is not known. But the issuance of this statement itself is tantamount to North Korea admitting there are cracks in the regime and economic maladministration. Kim's regime may be trying to lay all the responsibility on Jang to justify its legitimacy.
North Korea, which is reinforcing its state control at home, may adopt a policy of external provocations.
There are strong fears that the country may flaunt its nuclear deterrent by conducting its fourth nuclear test and fire yet another missile under the guise of launching an artificial satellite.
In this respect, it has been learned through analyses of satellite photos that North Korea has restarted a plutonium reactor, while moving ahead with improving nuclear test and missile launch sites. The international community must pay close attention to such developments and cooperate to deal with them.
Now that Jang has been removed from the scene, Kim apparently intends to carry out economic activities under the Cabinet-led leadership.
There are no signs of the country changing its policy of pursuing, in parallel, both economic reconstruction and the strengthening of its nuclear capability.
As long as North Korea continues to pursue nuclear and missile development, international economic sanctions against the country will not be relaxed. The country will not be successful in wooing any foreign investment or foreign tourists.
The North Korean people's frustration will grow as economic hardships continue. The danger of the country collapsing from within is growing.
In its efforts to develop the northeastern part of China by helping stabilize North Korea, Beijing has been urging Pyongyang to carry out reforms and open its market. The execution of Jang, who had assumed the pivotal role in this scheme, is probably a major blow to China's influence.
The destabilization of a despotic state developing nuclear weapons could lead to the outbreak of domestic turmoil. This is an important phase when Japan should prepare itself for any emergency by firmly maintaining the Japan-U.S. alliance and reinforcing its defense capability.