According to Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the top American commander in South Korea, North Korea has increased the execution of political officers accused of corruption as pressure from international sanctions grows.
Brooks made the comment to the Wall Street Journal in a Monday interview primarily focused on North Korea scaling back its annual military exercises, a decision taken as more evidence that sanctions are hitting Pyongyang hard.
“We’re seeing some increase in executions, mostly against political officers who are in military units, for corruption,” Brooks reported. He speculated the North Korean regime is conducting these executions in order to “clap down as much as possible” on deteriorating morale and, presumably, send a message that waste and graft are unacceptable as the economy declines.
The most remarkable recent execution may be that of Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so, North Korea’s most senior military officer. Hwang has not been seen in public since October 13. In mid-November, South Korean intelligence reported he was expelled from the General Politico Bureau of the North Korean military. There are rumors he was accused of taking bribes and executed by a death squad, while his deputy Kim Won-hong was reportedly shipped off to a prison camp.
U.S. officials quoted by the WSJ said North Korea’s winter military exercises were “slow in getting started and less extensive than usual” this year, perhaps due to fuel shortage. The North Koreans evidently still have enough gas to stage a big military parade right before the Winter Olympics, to the great annoyance of South Korea.
Business Insider hopefully speculates that the cutback in military exercises could be due to “legitimate political will on the North Korean side to calm recently boiling tensions.”
On the other hand, it notes the extent of sanctions against North Korea under the Trump administration, which has included not merely issuing proclamations but actively leaning on nations around the world to halt trade with the Kim regime. Andrea Berger of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies colorfully suggested to Business Insider that Trump’s “madman characteristic” is leading countries that ignored the Obama administration to take him seriously.
The Trump administration has been especially successful in Africa of late, cutting off an estimated three to five percent of North Korea’s foreign exchange earnings. Angola, a partner of North Korea’s since the Cold War, announced on Tuesday that it has terminated all contracts with the blacklisted North Korean construction company Mansudae Overseas Projects and ordered MOP workers to leave the country.