Amid news of Jang Song Taek’s removal and the purging of two of his closest associates, speculation is rife that Jang’s extended elite grouping now faces internal censure. However, close affiliates of the former Vice-Chairman of the National Defense Commission hold an array of vital posts in key agencies in Party, military, and state, meaning that blowback could occur along the way.
Kim Song Ho, a former cadre affiliated with the notorious “Office 39” of the Party spoke to Daily NK on the 5th, saying, “Jang Sung Taek was kept in check by Kim Jong Il when he was in power. As a result he didn’t have much sway with the military; but he was able to start planting his people in organs like the National Security Agency and Ministry of People’s Security. These people will be really anxious following Jang’s elimination, and are likely to keep a low profile.”
However, “Jang Song Taek used his power within the Party to form a force that could be called upon to aid him at any time. These people are probably holding their breath at the moment, too, but who knows how they would react if they felt backed into a corner by being removed,” Kim added.
The sheer number of people close to Jang also makes purging his “line” a truly formidable task, Kim said, asserting that during such a course of action “almost anything” could happen.
Choi Jin Yong, who served on North Hwanghae Province People’s Committee until 2010 agreed, adding, “I used to be quite close to Jang Sung Taek and met him once or twice a year. He was easy to get along with and took good care of those around him, so some people will be very unhappy or even annoyed at his removal.”
“North Korea is a society of fear,” Choi went on, “So a lot of Jang Sung Taek’s people will probably suffer in this round of purges. However, those people used to be well taken care of compared with other high-ranking cadres in North Korea, and we can’t be sure that they will obediently support their own removal,” Choi suggested.
“Excluding the two people from the Administrative Department of the Central Party who have already been purged, there are Jang people in the Party, military, and National Security Agency, so purging them all is a huge task,” Choi went on. “It will take at least two or three months to extract them all, and who knows what could happen during that time.”
In addition, Choi went on to discuss Choi Ryong Hae, calling him hard and unaccommodating, someone who does not tend to take care of those around him in the same way as Jang. Indeed, it was for precisely this reason that he was singled out by Kim Jong Il as someone unlikely to form a rival faction who could be trusted with a core role in facilitating the succession of Kim Jong Eun.
“In the late 1980s when he was head of the Central Committee of the [Kim Il Sung] Socialist Youth League, heads of other organizations would go and request an audience with him, but he would refuse to even speak with them,” Choi recalled.
This approach served the current head of the People’s Army General Political Department well, as his “style of showing utter loyalty to ensure his own personal safety has meant that he now has risen to a prominent position,” Choi went on. “That’s why he is next to Kim Jong Eun now.”
Thus, Kim said, “Jang is gone, but Choi cannot replace him and could easily go the way of Jang in no time. It’s highly likely that in the future it will be Kim Jong Eun’s sister Kim Yeo Jung who will report directly to Kim on trends in the core leading group.”