Foreign Affairs

North Korean dictator trims bureaucracy by murdering surplus uncle

North Korean dictator trims bureaucracy by murdering surplus uncle

Government reform, North Korea style, as reported by the Associated Press:

North Korea said Friday that it executed Kim Jong Un’s uncle as a traitor for trying to seize supreme power, a stunning end for the leader’s former mentor, long considered the country’s No. 2.

In a sharp reversal of the popular image of Jang Song Thaek as a kindly uncle guiding young leader Kim Jong Un as he consolidated power, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency indicated that Jang instead saw the death of Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, in December 2011 as an opportunity to challenge his nephew and win power.

Just days ago, North Korea accused Jang of corruption, womanizing, gambling and taking drugs, and said he’d been “eliminated” from all his posts. But Friday’s allegations, which couldn’t be independently confirmed, were linked to a claim that he tried “to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state.”

Pyongyang’s statement called him a “traitor to the nation for all ages,” ”worse than a dog” and “despicable human scum” – rhetoric often reserved in state propaganda for South Korean leaders.

Ouch.  That’s gotta hurt.  Well, probably not as much as his execution did.

Included among the long and insane list of charges against Uncle Jang was insufficiently enthusiastic clapping at a public event while honors were bestowed upon the Psycho-in-Chief, and putting a statue bearing the signature of the beloved leader in the shade.  Worst of all, as the UK Telegraph notes, he was accused of… shudder…  capitalism.

State media accused Jang of destroying the economy for his personal benefit, blaming him for masterminding the 2009 currency revaluation that sparked rare protests in North Korea. He was held responsible for the shoddy quality of construction materials, charged with secretly trading in rare metals and was criticised for encouraging private enterprise.

He was described as a libertine and secret capitalist who distributed pornography and blew 4.6 million euros ($6.3 million) on gambling, according to state media.

Jang got remarkably far into the North Korean inner circle, considering that he managed to survive a previous purge about ten years ago, and did some time in a labor camp.  All accounts portray him as almost bizarrely insouciant by the standards of deranged North Korean fascism.  Maybe he didn’t realize quite how disposable he would prove, as he was “grooming” Lil’ Kim for the top spot.  It was quite easy for Kim to flip a switch, remind everyone what a shady loose cannon Unc was, and liquidate him, along with several of his top aides.  Actually, the liquidation is probably still in progress, as everyone associated with Jang’s network contracts a sudden case of terminal inconvenience to the regime.  No big deal – the North Korean dictator figured he had too many citizens anyway, and they keep nattering on about how hungry they are.

The deeper significance of Jang’s fall from grace might be a break with China.  Jang was essentially their man in Pyongyang, overseeing a number of major joint ventures with his basket-case nation’s patrons.  Some analysts think Jang’s execution represents Kim’s final consolidation of power, rubbing out one of the few people with both the connections and pedigree to challenge his rule.  (Jang was married to the daughter of the current regime’s revered founder, Kim Il-Sung, whose health is said to be poor, but might avoid a sudden downgrade to “dead” because of her lineage.)  But others wonder if this purge is a sign of instability, and a growing rift between the exasperated rulers of Beijing and their unruly ward.  China hasn’t been thrilled with some of Kim’s antics of late.

If Kim is planning some more sabre-rattling, lunatic bluster, or maybe even a dash of nuclear blackmail, he might not want someone plugged into China reporting his moves back to the Politburo, and serving as their voice during his planning councils.  Jang also had considerable influence within the North Korean military.  His execution can be part of a ploy to declare the program of economic cooperation with China ineffective, perhaps even corrupt, and set the stage for whatever ugly little plan Kim has in mind.  At the moment, South Korean observers report no unusual military movements by the North, or suspicious activity at their nuclear weapons facilities, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.  A purge like this is something dictatorships do when they have mischief in the planning stages, not the moment they begin carrying it out.

How are the brutalized, brainwashed people of North Korea dealing with the sudden and shocking purge and execution of a man they were told to respect as an elder statesman, just months ago?  About as you’d expect, judging by the AP report:

One resident in Pyongyang, Kim Un Song, a doctor at a hospital, said she was surprised at the news but supported the execution.

“We trust and believe only in Marshal Kim Jong Un. Anti-revolutionary elements can’t shake our faith. I don’t know if there are more out there, but they will never shake our faith,” she said. “It’s very good that he was executed.”

Even tyrants have to invest a little effort in getting everyone on the same page.  In North Korea, the pages are written in blood.

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