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

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    Are US Schools Turning a Blind Eye to Radical Qatari Preachers?

    Parade of radical Islamist clerics using mosque at Qatar’s Education City draws mounting criticism for American universities that maintain satellite branches there

    Why Islamic State Is Down But Not Out

    Despite loss of territory, group’s ferocious attacks over past three months seen as testimony to its continued durability and resourcefulness

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora