The recent defection of North Korean Deputy Ambassador to the UK Thae Yong-ho has increased speculation about the increasing instability of Kim Jong-un's regime. Like the thirteen restaurant workers who defected from China in March, the Deputy Ambassador was well-connected: his wife is a member of the O family, whose links to the regime go back to the days when O Jung Hup fought alongside Kim Il Sung, the Great Leader, against the Japanese. In a country obsessed with lineage and pure race ideology, these things matter. There's no doubt the regime is rattled. They've not just called Thae "human scum": they've gone all the way, accusing him of raping children and embezzling money.
Leading the speculation is South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who's presumably privy to information unavailable to the rest of us:
Instability in North Korea is growing as members of Pyongyang’s elite are increasingly turning back on their communist homeland, President Park Geun-hye said Monday, fueling speculation that the South is preparing for a possible regime change in the North....
“The North Korean regime is taking no account of the people’s lives, while it oppresses the people with continuous rule by fear,” she said. “Recently, even the elite in the North is collapsing and high-profile figures are increasingly escaping their homeland and defecting to foreign countries. As the signs of serious cracks emerge, the regime’s instability is growing.”
Also, Joshua Stanton:
Most experts thought the regimes in East Germany, Romania, Albania, Libya, and Syria were as stable as Lehman Brothers, right up to the moments when each of those “stable” regimes fell. Most Sovietologists failed to predict the collapse of the East Bloc and the Soviet Union. Status quo bias is a powerful thing. The conventional analyst who predicts that the status quo will go on looks smart every day — until the day when he suddenly doesn’t. The unconventional analyst who predicts doom looks like a lunatic every day until the day when he suddenly looks like a prophet. The only day history remembers is that last one....
It's a typically well-sourced and authoritative piece, which broadly supports Stephan Haggard's thesis that a financial crisis now provides the most likely scenario for regime collapse:
Defection by North Korean diplomats who have access to foreign currency holdings would make it harder for North Korea to bring in money from abroad which can eventually hasten the communist regime's collapse in the event of a financial crisis, a renowned U.S. scholar said Monday.
The analysis by Stephen Haggard, professor at the University of California San Diego, reflects the speculation of growing instability in North Korea, as seen by recent defections of North Korean overseas workers who had played a part in repatriating hard currency to the cash-strapped regime....
"Historically, I've never thought of the collapse of North Korea in terms of political collapse, but I believe in the scenario ... with respect to the possibility of financial crisis," the professor said in a seminar arranged by the East Asia Foundation in Seoul.
North Korea's thinning foreign currency income, caused by UN-imposed trade bans and the shutdown of its inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex, left the country vulnerable to the possibility of a "sudden" financial crisis that can lead to a subsequent regime collapse, he said.
Now, Pyongyang is left with labor export as an only option for foreign currency earnings, with North Korean diplomats put in charge of securing the foreign income needed to keep North Korea afloat, the expert indicated.
"If a crisis in being caused partly by these activities that are being generated offshore by the ministry of foreign affairs ... labor exports and so forth, it's possible the defections could actually accelerate the likelihood that this financial crisis scenario unfolds," Haggard said.
It's coming, it's coming. But yes, we've been saying that for years....