Proving that he’s in total command, North Korea’s 30-year-old Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un purged his 67-year-old uncle Jang Song-thaek of his government No. 2 leadership position. Dragged by force from a Communist Central Party Committee meeting Dec. 9, tried and executed for treason, Kim demonstrated he was the right successor of his father Kim Jong-Il who died of “heart attack” Dec. 17, 2011 at age 70. While only 28 when he assumed control of North Korea, some doubted whether Kim Jong-Un possessed the same ruthlessness of his eccentric father, more concerned about hoarding Beluga caviar and Dom Perignon champagne than feeding his 25.5 million population. Unlike his father who took the mantle from its founder Kim Il-Sung July 8, 1994, Jong-Un alienated communist China—now an influential member of the U.N. Security Council and responsible world power than the years following the 1949 Maoist Revolution.
Charged with “acts of treachery and womanizing,” shows how little one has to do fall from grace in North Korea. Acts of “treachery and womanizing” hardly rise to the level of plotting the overthrow of Jong-Un’s government. Dragging North Korea’s No. 2 away demonstrates the young Kim’s maniacal control over the Korean State. While suspected of ratted out by his wife Kim Kyong-hee, there’s more to the purge. “She has openly expressed to the political bureau members that Jang’s power line is a threat to the royal family so she took an obvious choice,” said Lee Yun-keo, president of the North Korean Information Service. Jong-Un learned the same brutality from his father who routinely imprisoned and killed members of his own family. Jang’s execution was seen as a generation power shift, where Jong-Un sought less influence from his father’s generation. Kim’s public purge threw many North Korean analysts for a loop.
Conducting such a high profile purge, no attempt was made to deal with Jang internally, sending a loud message to other members of North Korea’s old guard. Kim ordered his older brother Kim Jong-chul to remove Jang by gunpoint from the Central Party meeting. “He was even armed with gun when he took the General Guard Bureau soldiers to arrest and execute the men,” said Lee, showing that Jong-Un meant business. Some North Korean experts believe the purge occurred sooner than expected. “The purge was surprisingly earlier than expected. Kim’s been in power less than two years and he does not have a strong political base in the party. ”North Korea is likely to be unstable for a while,” said Park Chang-kwon, senior research fellow and Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. Murdering Yang was the perfect way to consolidate power, not give the impression of weakness to would-be saboteurs considering counter-revolutionary acts.
Kim’s last nuclear test Feb. 12, 2013, detonating a new plutonium device underground, defied Western power but more importantly China. Kim’s feverish pursuit of nuclear bombs prompted his father Kim Jong-Il to detonate two one-five kiloton devices in 2006 and 2008, both only 5% of the 20-kiloton bomb detonated by the U.S. at Nagasaki Aug. 9, 1945. Kim’s totalitarian hold on North Korea’s population only works by public demonstrations of brutality. “What is surprising is the dramatic and public nature of the purge. It’s different from what has happened in the past,” said Daniel Pinkston Deputy project director for North Asia at the International Crisis Group. Like public executions, putting the purge out in full view sends a loud message to would be saboteurs that you don’t mess with Kim. Picking on the No. 2 in command with a long history in the regime only drives the message home that no one’s immune from the state’s reach.
Executing Kim’s Uncle Jang to make his point, the 30-year-old dictator thumbs his nose at the international community, especially China, who can no longer in good conscience keep business-as-usual with North Korea. Serving as a respectable power on the U.N. Security Council, it’s more difficult for China to continue placating Pyongyang. “Kim is young. He has a long way to go and this was an inevitable step to consolidate power around him with young and fresh generals,” said Koh You-hwan, professor of North Korea studies at Donggut University in Seoul. Already considered a global pariah for his nuclear defiance, Kim now asserts his power inside his government, not because of instability but precisely to consolidate totalitarian control. Whether or not it’s a new or older generation of leadership, Kim needs to maintain power with public demonstrations of brutality. Ripping Yang for his “depravity” speaks volumes of Pyongyang’s hypocrisy.
Kim knows his father the late Kim Jong-Il was no Puritan when it came to earthly delights at the expense of the North Korean public. Stockpiling fancy cars, Russian caviar and French champagne was the tip-of-the-iceberg of what really happened behind the scenes. Accusing Yang of compulsive gambling, pornography or prostitution, mirrors the monopoly the “royal family” has on black market contraband. Showing how much Kim learned from reading Orwell’s 1984, the North Korean state newspaper piled on the “two-minutes hate.” “I want to grab Jang by the neck and shove him down a boiling pot,” read the North Korean Daily State newspaper. “Jang is worse than an animal, full of immorality and ungratefulness,” showing the perverted side of North Korean state politics. Giving an inside peak into the state’s twisted logic, Yang would have been forgiven of his personal sins, obsessions and perversions had he shown Kim more gratitude.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.