December 9, 2013

Purge sends chilling message to North Korea’s elite

By purging his own uncle, Kim Jong Un signals that no one is beyond reach, not even family.

By Jean H. Lee
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

In this Feb. 16, 2012 photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walks past his uncle Jang Song Thaek, left, after reviewing a parade of thousands of soldiers and commemorating the 70th birthday of the late Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea announced Monday, Dec. 9, 2013 it had sacked leader Jang, long considered the country’s No. 2 power, saying corruption, drug use, gambling, womanizing and generally leading a “dissolute and depraved life” had caused Pyongyang’s highest-profile fall from grace since Kim took power two years ago.

AP Photo/Kyodo News

But Monday’s announcement in state media also hinted that Jang was trying to challenge the party status quo. It said he committed anti-party, counterrevolutionary acts and “pretended to uphold the party and leader” while double-dealing behind the scenes.

By publicly punishing Jang, Kim is warning Pyongyang’s elites that loyalty to him is the only loyalty that matters: The dispatch said the purge would extend to supporters of Jang but did not provide details.

Jang’s expulsion raises the question of what will happen to his Jang’s wife, Kim Kyong Hui. As the sole remaining offspring of North Korea’s founder, she is a key figure in a leadership hierarchy that stresses the Kim family bloodlines in their claim to legitimacy. North Koreans and foreign observers will be keeping close watch for her appearance at memorials marking the second anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death Dec. 17.

The purge of Jang also calls into question how aggressively North Korea will push forward on the ambitious economic projects that he championed. The excoriation of Jang’s business dealings is a sign that the leadership is uncomfortable with the loss of state control that may come with economic growth. The incident also reveals the internal instability in North Korea despite the regime’s efforts to display an image of unity.

Since Kim took power, the party has portrayed him as a leader who cares about the people. He has ordered the construction of parks, swimming pools and skating rinks. The supply of heat and electricity has improved, at least in Pyongyang. Food is more plentiful.

He also rails regularly against corruption and laziness, and has called national meetings of key agencies in a bid to restore order. Those efforts have strengthened the intricate web of laws governing how North Koreans live — and the punishment for those who break them.

Despite Jang’s ouster, foreigners in Pyongyang said it appeared to be business as usual Monday.

North Koreans are expert at adopting a mask of neutrality when necessary, but the arrest has undoubtedly struck fear in many normally stoic hearts.

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)