Recent events in the highest reaches of the North Korean state have become a global talking point, with Kim Jong Eun eliminating an alternate locus of power in order to cement his own rule and promote regime stability.
According to South Korean intelligence released to a National Assembly committee earlier this week, public execution befell two of Jang’s core associates last month. Both men were part of the Administration Department of the Chosun Workers’ Party, which handles the personnel affairs of the ruling elite, and both stood accused of corruption and “anti-party” activities. The authorities are now said to be investigating other officials within what can loosely be termed the “Jang faction,” and it is believed that Jang has been stripped of all his politically meaningful posts.
This is not an insignificant turn of events. Prior to his removal, Jang was not only head of the Administration Department; he was also Vice-Chairman of the National Defense Commission and leader of the State Sports Guidance Commission. Not only that; his purging surely necessitates the recall of North Korea’s ambassadors to both Malaysia and Cuba, both of whom are members of Jang’s family. Such people cannot be allowed to work abroad. If the Jang family falls, therefore, few areas of political power remain untouched.
In particular, as head of the Central Administrative Department, Jang played a key role in deciding who rose and who fell in the security services. Choosing a replacement for such a core position is surely a matter of the utmost sensitivity. Fierce competition to show loyalty to the center will grow fiercer as a result, and ordinary people will surely suffer as the incentive to toe the line grows, and rules are more rigidly adhered to.
One North Korea expert, speaking to Daily NK on condition of anonymity, commented, “As director of the Administration Department, Jang had control over public security organs, and had worked on overseas affairs for many years. He was known to have a really extensive personal network. It’s probable that diplomats abroad will be summoned home, so the power vacuum created by Jang’s departure will be broader than anticipated.”
“This move must be interpreted as Kim Jong Eun saying he will construct a unified system of power combining ideology, organization and regulation,” the expert concluded. “The core military class has been replaced with Kim’s people, and now the Party will be filled with the rising Kim faction.”
However, Choi Jin-wook of the Korea Institute of National Unification (KINU) cautioned that the removal of Jang is a serious matter. “Kim cast aside this person with whom he created the regime and intends to make a system of lone governance,” he said. “But it evinces weakness. This was done to show that power has been consolidated, but the balance of power could once again be shaken if Choi Ryong Hae grows stronger.”
Professor Kim Yeon Soo of Korea National Defense University echoed Choe’s sentiment, saying, “Kim is facing great difficulty in moving to a lone governing system, given that he has not attended a single foreign summit or event to date. Jang also played a big role in the economy, and Choi Ryong Hae can’t do everything by himself. Things are looking very stressful for Kim at present.”