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China’s Resurgent Warlords

OSAKA – Last December, the world was appalled by the North Korean government’s execution of Chang Song-thaek, an uncle-in-law of the young Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and the regime’s de facto second in command. Given Chang’s pivotal role in steering North Korea’s moribund economy, his execution raised serious doubts about the regime’s stability – raising fears of the collapse of a dynasty that possesses weapons of mass destruction. But, ultimately, Chang’s execution really affected only one other country, North Korea’s only international ally: China.

Five months later, there remains no clear account of the motivation behind the decision to eliminate Chang. Nonetheless, a series of in-depth analyses have offered some insight into the power struggle among North Korea’s leadership over the distribution of resources – including mining and other concessions – that are closely linked with the regime’s foreign policy.