News / Asia

North Korea's Public Purge Signals Leadership Transition

FILE - Jang Song Thaek exits a car as he arrives at the Ziguangge building of Zhongnanhai, the central government compound, in Beijing, Aug. 17, 2012.
FILE - Jang Song Thaek exits a car as he arrives at the Ziguangge building of Zhongnanhai, the central government compound, in Beijing, Aug. 17, 2012.
TEXT SIZE - +
Daniel Schearf
— North Korea has confirmed that leader Kim Jong Un's uncle and mentor, Jang Song Thaek, has been ousted in a public purge. Political analysts say the highly publicized dismissal is meant as a warning to ensure loyalty as the young leader consolidates power.
 
North Korea's state media confirmed intelligence reports Monday that Jang Song Thaek has been stripped of power and position for corruption and factionalism.
 
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Jang and his associates abused power in acts against the communist party and ignored orders from leader Kim Jong Un, his nephew by marriage.
 
Jang was removed as vice chairman of North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission and accused of using drugs, gambling, womanizing and luxurious wining and dining.
 
Korean Central Television showed images of Jang being arrested by uniformed soldiers from a Sunday meeting of the political bureau of the Korean Workers Party attended by Kim Jong Un. His dismissal was also front page news on the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper.
 
Andrei Lankov, a professor of Korean history at Kookmin University, says that while political purges in Pyongyang are not uncommon, the level of publicity in this instance is unheard of. 
 
“In the past, hundreds or maybe even thousands of high level officials have been purged. Some of them executed, some of them sent to exile or prison. Some of them eventually made a comeback. However, with very few exceptions in North Korea, purges have always been fixed. Unlike, say, the Soviet Union under Stalin, when they remove the high level official they usually did not make it public.  When they did, it was never on such a scale,” said Lankov.
 
It is not clear what will happen to Jang or if the 67-year-old is facing any criminal charges.
 
South Korea's spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, first revealed the removal of Jang last week, along with the execution of two assistants and a purge of supporters.
 
Political analysts say the moves appear aimed at warning officials who challenge leader Kim Jong Un that not even family connections can protect them.
 
Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at South Korea's Sejong Institute, believes Jang was probably perceived as posing a threat to Un. 
 
Cheong said Jang Song Thaek's activities had become a problem as he tried to create his own power, and become stronger than he had been during the rule of Kim Jong Il. Two of his aides were executed at a military trial, he says, and he guesses Jang Song Thaek will be sent to a concentration camp or receive more drastic punishment.
 
Jang Song Thaek was quietly purged twice before under his brother-in-law, former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. However, both times Jang was rescued and rehabilitated with the help of his wife, the aunt of Kim Jong Un, Kim Kyong Hui.
 
The couple tutored leader Kim Jong Un after his father's death, but South Korean media reports say Kim Kyong Hui has been suffering from illness and their influence dropped.
 
Much of the central North Korean leadership is from the era of Kim Jong Il and are in their 60s and 70s, leading analysts to debate the extent of their allegiance to the 30-year-old Kim Jong Un.
 
Since assuming power two years ago, Kim Jong Un has replaced more than 40% of high level officials, consolidating his rule and installing a younger generation of officials that are loyal to him, not his father.
 
The power shuffle raised concerns about political stability in the impoverished and nuclear-armed state.
 
Lankov says the risk of publicly removing Jang is likely temporary, whereas the reward for leader Kim Jong Un is longer term.
 
“I would not overestimate this impact because, at the same time, it shows to the bureaucrats that the young man is a person to be afraid of and that it's safer not to get in trouble with him. And, at the end of the day, such fear might actually increase stability in the country,” said Lankov.
 
Before he was removed from power, Jang Song Thaek, among other duties, was in charge of special economic zones run jointly with China.
 
Daniel Pinkston, the deputy director for Northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group, says the purge of Jang is not likely to affect relations with Beijing.
 
“With Jang being pushed aside I don't see any major change in that relationship.  And, China has an incentive to keep the regime in power and ensure that North Korea is stable. And, I think they'll continue the level of support that we've seen in the past,” said Pinkston.
 
South Korean media reports said an assistant to Jang fled to China in November and is in South Korean custody. Officials in Seoul and Beijing would not confirm the alleged defection.
 
VOA Seoul Bureau Producer Youmi Kim contributed to this report.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid