Every week we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.
This week, in a special change of format, Ji-Min shares his thoughts about the execution of Jang Song Thaek.
The current situation in North Korean affairs is extraordinary. A man of the highest influence, even referred to as the real power behind the throne, has been publicly purged and executed. This clearly indicates who the real ruler of North Korea is at present. So what is the reason for Jang’s fall from grace?
In my personal opinion this incident should be seen in the context of the veiled enmity between Jang and military authorities. North Korea has become a corrupt world where money can buy anything. For this reason, high ranking military officers have bought companies with the intention of earning as much foreign currency as possible.
However, since Kim Jong Un came to power he has taken many of the financial resources away from the military and supplied them to the Worker’s Party. Kim is seen as favoring the party rather than military and people had been expecting reform and peace. Jang was the Chief of the Central Administrative Department of Workers’ Party, placing him in possession of all financial resources and personnel in the country.
He was responsible for collecting funds from activities as varied as as narcotics production to legitimate trade, counterfeiting and exporting weapons. He plundered military funds to reinforce his own power but, as a result he will have provoked the animosity of the military.
Many people have thought that Jang put Kim on the throne and that he would look after Kim until his administration stabilizes. But I don’t think this is the case.
Kim Jong Un’s rise to power was markedly different to that of his father. Kim Jong Il’s use of propaganda laid the groundwork for his succession over a period of many years. But by contrast Kim Jong Un became became the leader of the country in a very short time.
This is was abnormal even for North Korea, which leads to questions of who helped this young and inexperienced leader to the throne, and what was their interest in doing so?
It is unlikely he could have got far without the help of the military, who were also the most vulnerable to structural changes should the country open its doors and reform its economy. The military tension between the South and the North sustains their power and political control. A significant thaw between the two countries, economic reforms and improving relations with the South would weaken the influence of military authorities who benefitted most from the Kim Jong Il’s Songun, military first policy.
However, when Kim Jong Un came to power, the story changed as he is unlikely to able to implement reforms and open up the country.
“In the end the people will remove Kim from power”
Many observers had hoped that since Kim Jong Un studied in Switzerland and had experienced Western culture he would adopt a more progressive stance. However it is now clear that such thinking was wrong-headed. North Korea must strictly control the inflow of Western culture and ideas, as they fear that the people in the DPRK might begin to experience freedom and truth.
In the end the people will remove Kim from power. He knows that their anger has been building over the course of many years and that this will likely cost him his life. What is more, he cannot ignore his grandfather’s and father’s policy decisions and pursue alternatives. His position is built on the idea that he is of the Kim’s anointed blood line, so how could he deny everything that that Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il put in place, and reform the country into a capitalist nation? This is why the military can sustain themselves, for as long as Kim Jong Un continues his reign, their goals overlap.
When I was in North Korea, it was clear that the military secretly and gradually took action to set Kim Jong Un up as a leader from the beginning of the 2000s. At that time they began to idolize Ko Young Hee and called Kim Jong Un “Morning Star General.”
Kim Jong Il also began to glorify his mother Kim Jung Sook as a preparatory step toward his ascension. With such a cozy relationship between the military and Kim Jong Un, Jang’s dismissal and subsequent execution was thus to some extent anticipated.
Jang represented the pro-Chinese side as well as the moderates. It was claimed that Jang requested the resumption of the Kaesong Industrial complex and was opposed to the nuclear test earlier this year. These conflicting goals meant that eventually a collision between Jang and Kim Jong Un was inevitable.
“In just a few years, the destiny of North Korea will be determined”
I have heard that the official who was in charge of Kim Jong Il’s secret funds has sought refuge in South Korea. He is highly likely to know much about North Korean funding channels so his defection is by no means irrelevant to Jang’s dismissal.
It is possible that this affair brought about a big change in North Korea. If this defector’s knowledge leads to North Korean funding channels being blocked, the DPRK might become even more unpredictable that usual.
This incident tells us that Kim Jong Un’s administration faces its worst crisis ever. In just a few years, the destiny of North Korea will be determined.
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Editing and translation by JM Seo
Artwork by Catherine Salkeld
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