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North Korea confirms purge of Kim Jong Un`s powerful uncle

North Korea confirms purge of Kim Jong Un`s powerful uncle

Posted December. 10, 2013 10:30,   


North Korea announced Monday that it dismissed Jang Song Thaek from all different posts, and released a photo of him being arrested at an expanded meeting of the North Korean Workers’ Party politburo chaired by Kim Jong Un. This constitutes public purging that was unprecedented during the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il eras. His arrest should have come as total shock and fear to North Korea’s power elite who has witnessed Jang’s demise. The expanded meeting of the politburo listed crimes allegedly committed by Jang, and mentioned several times “Jang Song Thaek boodle,” indicating that bloody acts of purging will continue going forward.

Kim Jong Un’s removal of Jang can be construed as declaration of war that whoever challenges the one-man rule regime will not be forgiven. Jang was the North’s supreme power elite, who enjoyed power through three-generation power inheritance from Kim Il Sung to Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Un. The charge the politburo imposed on Jang included accusation that “He sought to challenge the party’s lone rule.” Looking at from the flip side, this could be the fundamental reason for the purging of Jang, and drug, unruly extramarital relationships with women, and foreign currency embezzlement could only be excuses. It remains uncertain whether he will be able to survive at all because according to a statement by the politburo of the North Korean Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, “He challenged Kim Jong Un, the one and only ruler.”

Next Tuesday, the second anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death, marks the beginning of Kim Jong Un’s third year in power. The young Kim has replaced more than 40 vice-ministerial level officials from the party, over 30 officials from the cabinet, and more than 20 military generals above the corps commander level over the past two years, in consolidating his leadership and power. Having removed Jang who was nicknamed No. 2 man or regent, Kim Jong Un has solidified the foundation to stand on his own by overcoming the shadow of his father Kim Jong Il, and is entering his third year in power. Without doubt, the North’s power elite will race to demonstrate their loyalty. Looking at the purging of Jang, who would be able to dare to challenge Kim Jong Un? Kim’s leadership will likely stabilize in the short-term, but it is uncertain how long the North Korean regime will survive.

Jang has an extensive human network that he has established while staying as power elite for a long period of time. Rumors say that the guard of Jang’s slush funds took asylum, and watchers say that senior North Korean officials will seek asylum en masse. Kim Jong Un is conducting a number of personnel reshuffles to dismiss or demote top military officials, including Army Chief Ri Yong Ho. Reign of terror is a double edged sward that serves as measure to strengthen power grip but it also spawns fears.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service should closely trace and monitor situations in North Korea’s leadership and respond accordingly. It is hard to predict how widely Kim Jong Un’s South Korea policy will shift after he consolidates his internal control. If defection by a top North Korean official such as Hwang Jang-yup reoccurs, tension could escalate between the two Koreas. The government and the military should mobilize all of their intelligence and diplomatic capabilities and promptly and cleverly cope with changes in North Korea’s leadership.