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Jang, N. Korean leader’s guardian and reformist aide

Publication Date : 04-12-2013

 

Jang Song-thaek, believed to have been dismissed from the No. 2 post in North Korea, was the uncle, guardian, mentor and reform-minded assistant of young leader Kim Jong-un.

Seoul’s National Intelligence Service told lawmakers Tuesday that the vice chairman of North Korea’s National Defence Commission is likely to have been fired. Lawmakers said that information about measures, if any, taken against his person has not been verified.

The spy agency said it confirmed that two of his close associates had been publicly executed on charges of anti-party activity, one of the gravest crimes in the communist country.

The organisation under his control was incapacitated or dissolved, it added.

As for Jang, he has been staying out of the public eye this year after his close associates came under the authorities’ scrutiny for corruption, the government source said.

As the husband of Kim Jong-un’s aunt Kim Kyong-hui, younger sister of his deceased father Kim Jong-il, Jang is widely considered to be the most influential aide to the fledgling leader.

His rise began in the early 1970s when he married the daughter of North Korea’s deceased national founder, Kim Il-sung. After marriage he began as a mid-level official with the communist party, and by the mid 1980s he had risen to become a leading figure within the Supreme People’s Assembly. In 1992 he was raised further, being included in the core group of North Korea’s communist party.

Although he was cast out from the centre of power in 2002 after being found to have used state funds for personal use, he returned to power in 2006.

Under Kim Jong-un, he rose to unrivalled status.

Soon after Kim Jong-il’s death in 2011, Jang was made a four-star general, giving him significant influence over the North’s military despite having spent almost all of his adult life in the communist party.

As the director of the ruling party’s administration, he heads the Ministry of State Security, the North’s top intelligence agency, and the Ministry of People’s Security, which is similar to Seoul’s National Policy Agency.

Buoyed by his ever-increasing power, he has been seen engaging in actions unprecedented in the reclusive state.

In January, Jang was caught on the North’s Korean Central Television appearing bored and inattentive while Kim was giving a speech. The scene was taken by Seoul’s experts as testimony to how high Jang had risen within Pyongyang’s leadership as Kim’s guardian.

Also supporting this assessment is the fact that Jang was seen wearing the same suit as the North Korean leader - something that would have been unimaginable under Kim Jong-il.

Pundits say, however, that his rise in power may have caused his downfall.

“You want to eliminate the people that pose the greatest threat ... Jang has been purged twice before,” said Daniel Pinkston, Deputy Project Director for North East Asia of the International Crisis Group. He added that actions taken against Jang are likely to be part of efforts for solidifying Kim Jong-un’s rule.

“And you also have to exercise punishments and be ruthless ... and exercise deadly force,” Pinkston added.

In addition to being a major player in Pyongyang’s inner circle, Jang is also said to have been a reformist.

Jang is reported to have advised Kim Jong-il to implement measures for reforming and opening North Korea, with late Hwang Jang-yop referring to him as a figure “with reformist tendencies, who will lead North Korea after Kim Jong-il.” Hwang is a North Korean defector who served in a top post within North Korea’s communist party.

Others, including former US assistant secretary of state for East Asia Christopher Hill have given different assessments of Jang.

Hill referred to Jang as only appearing to be a reformist and said that he will serve to extend the idolisation of the Kim family.

 

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