The aftermath of the execution of Jang Sung-thaek, the North’s second most powerful man and leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle, is drawing a lot of attention.
Jang, who served as vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, was executed on December 12 right after a military trial ruled his guilt of “anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts,” according to the North’s official media, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in an English dispatch.
“The tribunal examined Jang’s crimes. All the crimes committed by the accused were proved over the course of the hearing and were admitted to by him,” the Agency said, adding, “Jang did those acts to overthrow the leadership of our party and state and the socialist system.” The KCNA said Jang admitted during the hearing that he attempted a coup targeting the “comrade supreme leader.”
The execution came four days after Jang was arrested and hauled out of a Workers Party Politburo meeting.
South Korea’s Response
South Korea has kept a close eye on the North’s situation, expressing “deep concerns” over the execution and “making sure to be prepared for all possibilities in the future.”
“We are closely watching the situation with concerns over a series of developments in North Korea, keeping a close cooperation with allies,” Unification Ministry Spokesman Kim Eyi-do said after a meeting of security ministers.
Under the circumstances, the Ministry’s spokesperson said in a briefing on December 13 that South and North Korea agreed to hold working-level talks in the coming week to discuss ways to upgrade their joint industrial park in Kaesong, North Korea. Pyongyang proposed the talk to Seoul the same day it purged Jang, a few days ago.
The fourth meeting of the Seoul-Pyongyang joint management committee on the Kaesong Industrial Complex will be held on December 19 inside complex itself.
China said on December 13 that it wants “stability” on the Korean Peninsula after the North announced the execution of Jang.
“As a friendly neighbor, we hope to see national stability, economic development and people living in happiness in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular news briefing. He added, “The execution of Jang is an internal affair of the DPRK,” as he commented in the same manner when he did at Jang’s purge.
However, China’s state-run Global Times reported on December 13 that Beijing may consider imposing “some restrictions” on its relations with Pyongyang.
“The majority of the public here holds a negative attitude toward the recent happenings in Pyongyang,” China’s state newspaper said in an editorial.
“This may impose some restrictions on Sino-North Korean ties. Chinese aid to North Korea may face more questioning, and grass-roots interaction may lose some momentum,” the newspaper said.
Pyongyang’s relations with Beijing are also expected to be impacted because Jang had many connections in China.
Sources familiar with the issue said that North Korean businessmen in China have been summoned back to their country in large numbers since Jung’s execution. The businessmen worked in the northeastern Chinese cities of Shenyang and Dandong to facilitate trade between the two countries and attract Chinese investment in North Korea.
Another source said that North Korea plans to summon all of its officials and staff from China in stages, adding, “Those classified as having connections to Jang will never be able to go abroad again and will be purged.”
Some experts said one aim of Jang’s execution may have been for military Politburo Chief Choe Ryong-hae to regain control over the money-making operations Jang had monopolized.
Further Instability in the North Regime to Be Expected
Experts in Seoul said the swiftly-carried-out execution is seen as the regime’s attempt to strengthen its leadership and to show strength, but it could bring further instability to the regime while the young leader’s reign of terror is expected to continue.
They also said that Kim may have eliminated the greatest threat to his rule, but he also exposed the instability of his power base.
Yun Duk-min, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said that he doubts the stability of the Kim regime given the North’s recent rapid changes in power structure, which could weaken Kim’s own power base and lead to internal chaos.
Nam Sung-wook at Korea University pointed out that nation founder Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il also eliminated their rivals “but never organized rallies to denounce them” as Kim Jong-un is doing. He said this demonstrates a “weakened power base” for the young leader.