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

Beloved Lion Killing Sparks Virtual, Real Life Outrage

Twitter, as usual, was epicenter for anger directed at Palmer, with some questioning his manhood, calling for him to be released into the wild More

Video Booming London Property Market a Haven for Dirty Money

Billions of dollars from proceeds of crime, especially from Russia, being laundered through London property market, according to anti-corruption activists More

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

One former Scout leader thinks organization will move past political, social debate, get back to its primary focus of turning boys into good citizens More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs