Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Tsutomu Nishioka

【#226】Jang’s Execution Reflects Weakness of Kim Regime

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2013.12.18 (Wed)

December 16, 2013

      Jang Song-thaek, once a top echelon in the North Korean autocratic regime, has been executed. His purge has three characteristic points: (1) its quick announcement reflecting the Kim Jong-un regime's immaturity and impatience, (2) the existence of patronage politics resulting from the depletion of foreign currency reserves amid foreign economic sanctions, and (3) a deadly power struggle within the Korean Workers Party. The Kim Jong-un regime is likely to give greater priority to military buildup while remaining unstable. Kim Jong-un's assassination, a coup and massive riots can be expected at any time.

Patronage politics emerging from depletion of foreign currency reserves
      Purges of senior officials have been prevalent in North Korea. The latest purge featured its immediate announcement. When social unrest spread due to more than three million deaths from starvation between 1997 and 2001 after the death of the patriarch, Kim Il-sung, none other than Jang Song-thaek took the lead in purging 25,000 senior officials. The so-called Simhwa party incident has never been announced officially. Earlier purges including the incident had not been subject to any immediate announcement. The quick announcement of Jang’s purge and execution could lead his followers to flee or protest even at cost of their lives. The latest purge featuring the immediate announcement indicates the Kim Jong-un regime's immaturity and impatience.
      The second characteristic of the Jang purge is the existence of patronage politics between the military and the government that has resulted from the depletion of foreign currency reserves. Sanctions, which Japan and other foreign countries have implemented to cut off foreign currency supply supporting the North Korean regime, have worked to deepen North Korea’s internal contradictions. Jang transferred many of foreign currency-earning operations from the military to the government toward the centennial of Kim Il-sung’s birth in April 2012, leading Ri Yong-ho, then chief of the general staff of the Korean People’s Army, to be purged in July 2012 due to his discontent with the transfer. In a bid to recoup lost ground, the military carried out a missile-firing test in December 2012, a nuclear explosion test in February 2013 and successive bellicose provocations later.
      The special military tribunal's ruling on Jang criticized him for taking advantage of the military's and people's discontent with an economic collapse to overthrow the Kim Jong-un regime and become premier to reconstruct the economy. He was also charged with being a reformist selling resources and the right to lease land to a foreign country that is taken as China. The ruling thus suggests that there might have been a dispute over how to overcome the economic collapse.

Japan's negotiation channels should be secured
      The third point is that Jang Song-thaek had a hostile relationship with the KWP Organization and Guidance Department that includes closest aides to the late leader Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un’s father. The department ousted Jang from the party leadership in 2004 and left him out of the leadership until 2006. The department's First Deputy Director Jo Yon-jun played a major role in purging Jang this time, according to South Korean government officials. Some analysts suggest that senior officials in the department might have feared their possible purge to be caused by Jang's revenge and launched a preemptive attack on him.
      In the future, the Kim Jong-un regime will try to miniaturize nuclear warheads for missiles and give priority to promoting Pyongyang's policy that originated in the Kim Il-sung age to eliminate U.S. forces' intervention on the Korean Peninsula and communize South Korea for the red unification of the peninsula. Economic reconstruction will grow more difficult, triggering a massive famine that could lead to massive refugees and riots.
      In order to ensure the safety of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea and achieve their rescue, Japan is required to secure negotiation channels with the power center of the North Korean regime while coordinating strategies with the United States and South Korea and collecting accurate information through human intelligence.

Tsutomu Nishioka is Planning Committee Member, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and Professor at Tokyo Christian University.