Kim’s reign of terror starts

December 13, 2013
Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong-un

By Kang Seung-woo

By all indications, North Korea’s swift execution of Jang Song-thaek for conspiring to overthrow leader Kim Jong-un exemplifies the cruel side of power. Kim is estimated to be around 30.

The North’s media, all state-controlled, depicted Jang, once the No. 2 man behind Kim, as gathering his forces, stowing resources and attempting to overthrow the young leader.

With Jang executed after a public dress-down, Kim ― if he is indeed behind the latest high-profile purge ― has certainly achieved a level of fear necessary to maintain power.

“As there are still Jang followers with substantial influence on the regime, Kim Jong-un is highly expected to continue his reigning style,” said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

“Chances are high that the authorities have already detained Jang’s aides, and we can expect a widespread purge.”

The purge of Jang’s associates is likely to start with the Workers’ Party.

“Since Jang assumed the position of chief of the Central Administrative Department of the Workers’ Party, the party’s major senior officials may be at the top of the purge list,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University.

KCNA also hinted at a series of purges there.

“Our service personnel and people will never pardon all those who dare disobey the unitary leadership of Kim Jong-un,” the state media said.

Jang confidants Ri Ryong-ha and Jang Su-gil, both of whom were executed in mid-November, were the first-deputy director of the Central Administrative Department and a deputy director of the same department, respectively.

Also likely to be the target of purges are the United Front Department, which is in charge of dealing with the South and where Jang reportedly formed a faction; and an organization controlling crucial sources of foreign exchange coming in from Chinese foreign investments and their related exports, given that Jang sought foreign investment for the country.

However, analysts said the military may avoid such a purge because it had few ties to Jang.

“I don’t know recently appointed army officers well, but have some acquaintances there from the past,” Jang was quoted as saying by KCNA.

North watchers expect Kim’s reign of terror to last anywhere from a few months to more than a year.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang’s state-run media outlets have provided unprecedented coverage of Jang’s arrest and execution, something experts say is designed to serve as a warning to others in the Stalinist country.

“Kim is trying to strengthen his control within the regime and emphasize loyalty from many senior regime officials,” Kim said.

Max Fisher, a blogger for The Washington Post, said Jang’s execution has sent a message to the rest of the Pyongyang elite ― “I’m a lot tougher than my father and willing to be a lot more brutal to you, so you’d better get in line.”