THE world has come to expect the unexpected from the North Korean regime.
But even by its own brutal and bizarre standards the announcement of the execution of leader Kim Jong-un's uncle, Jang Song Thaek, was extraordinary. It is a dangerous time to be an elite in North Korea, just as it was in the mid-1990s.
A purge is under way and intelligence analysts around the region and in the West are desperately trying to decipher what all this means. Perhaps the most pressing question is whether Kim acted out of fear his uncle was building a rival force inside the regime, or strength, consolidating the power he has amassed over the past two years.
Amid all the speculation, one thing is certain. Kim's ruthless disposal of Jang Song Thaek has grave implications not only for North Korea, but also its neighbours and the United States. This chilling demonstration is Kim's way of telling the world he is his own man. When next the international community is pressed to launch negotiations or diplomatic initiatives with Pyongyang, it is Kim alone it will have to deal with.
For that reason, it would not be a surprise if the young leader launched another missile or generated some form of agitation. Such action would not only undermine the Chinese - who relied on Jang as their point of contact inside North Korea - but also serve to force internal unity in the wake of the purge.
As the year draws to a close the world has no shortage of flashpoints. Events in North Korea have only added to the list. It has always been far too easy to dismiss this secretive communist nation as little more than a basket-case state. Kim Jong-un has revealed just how deadly serious his regime is. The international community is wise to be on its guard.
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