On the same day North Korea announced its purge of Jang Song-thaek, uncle and former political protector of leader Kim Jong-un, it signed a contract with China to jointly develop a special economic district, an official who is involved in the project told the JoongAng Ilbo exclusively.
Jang opposed the project, although he had authority over such economic zones.
The official, who works for the government of Tumen, a city in northeastern China on the border with North Korea, said Pyongyang signed a contract with Tumen to jointly develop a special economic zone in nearby Onsong, North Hamgyong Province.
Onsong County is one of the 14 regions North Korean leader Kim tentatively designated as development zones, as part of his efforts to attract foreign investment.
Under the contract, the official said, the Tumen government will invest in a tourist resort on Onsong Island in the Tumen River and also some factories in the county using North Korea’s cheap labor.
Jang reportedly opposed the plan for Onsong, claiming it was premature.
“Starting this summer, North Korea has focused on developing the Onsong Special Zone through continuous communications with the Tumen city government,” the official said. “Although the regime made its announcement about the purge of Jang Song-thaek in the morning, they signed the contract regardless of that.
“That morning, we assumed the conclusion of the contract would be delayed because of the unprecedented charging of Kim’s uncle with anti-party, anti-revolutionary crimes, which are the equivalent to treason,” the official said. “But the North Korean authorities said, ‘Everything is alright,’ and, ‘Business will proceed as scheduled.’?”
Regarding the report, a South Korean government official said, “They may have wanted to show [China] that there would be no unrest or policy changes due to the dismissal of Jang.”
North Korean officials also reportedly told several Chinese and Hong Kong businessmen recently, “Let’s keep our businesses from being affected by events.”
A businessman who asked not to be identified said, “Immediately after South Korea’s National Intelligence Service alleged that Jang appeared to have been purged, North Korean authorities told me, ‘Sometime soon, there will be a big event in our republic, but there will be no changes in our principles of cooperating on businesses, so let’s carry on.’ A day after the announcement of Jang’s removal [Dec. 10], I received a similar message.”
In fact, the State Economic Development Commission that signed the contract, which is under the ruling Workers’ Party, had been led by Jang loyalists, sources said. But this summer Pyongyang appointed a new commissioner, Kim Ki-sok, who is the son of Kim Chang-son, chief secretary to Kim Jong-un.
Since the dramatic and unprecedented purge of Jang, which was officially confirmed Monday, Pyongyang has been rallying support from the public through state media and local party meetings, apparently to prevent any public unrest.
The ruling party’s official newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, ran a report on its front page about responses from various sectors to the purge of Jang, with separate articles by four senior officials in the party, the cabinet and the military.
Kim Pyong-hae, a secretary of the ruling party’s Central Committee, who is reportedly in charge of human resources, called Jang’s group “rebellious elements.”
Vice Premier Jon Sung-hun claimed that “Jang’s faction had sold our precious state resources, coal, at a cheap price, hindering the supply of coal for our fertilizer factories, an anti-national activity.”
On Monday, the newspaper even published sheet music of a new propaganda song entitled, “We Don’t Know Anything but You.”
The lyrics go, “Great Comrade Kim Jong-un, we don’t know anything but you.”
“North Korea is using the ‘politics of music’ to brainwash people,” a Unification Ministry official told the JoongAng Ilbo. “Through the media, the regime is giving repeated messages to the people and urging them to safeguard Kim Jong-un.”
The state-run Korean Central News Agency, also yesterday, called Jang and his supporters “a vicious faction that deserves to face the grave judge of history.”
“It is common for North Korea to publicly condemn a person who goes against the vision of the ruling party and commits a mistake in front of all of his or her colleagues,” a North Korean defector said on the condition of anonymity.
“As North Korea has officially stigmatized Jang as a challenger to the divine power of Kim Jong-un,” he said, “all North Korean people will participate in a nationwide movement criticizing him.”
While rumors continue to fly about the exact circumstance of Jang’s dismissal, Thomas Schaefer, the German ambassador to North Korea, said at a seminar in Berlin that Kim Jong-un appeared to have been pressured to oust his uncle by hard-liners in the military.
According to Korean officials, the ambassador allegedly said the military hard-liners felt threatened by doves in North Korea, including Jang, striving to boost economic cooperation with China and pressed Kim to purge Jang.
The ambassador also reportedly said the loyalty of the North Korean military to Kim Jong-un was not that strong and dismissed the notion that Jang’s forced exit from the scene would shore up a “sole leadership” of his nephew.
BY JEONG YONG-SOO, KIM HEE-JIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]