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.
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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocidei
X
Elizabeth Lee
August 31, 2015 8:23 PM
Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the end of the civil war in Guatemala. During the conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed in what is known as the Guatemalan genocide. Researchers are now collecting video testimonies of the survivors to preserve the memories of what happened to prevent future genocides. Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the end of the civil war in Guatemala. During the conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed in what is known as the Guatemalan genocide. Researchers are now collecting video testimonies of the survivors to preserve the memories of what happened to prevent future genocides. Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs