Jang’s downfall started in 2012

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Jang’s downfall started in 2012

A primary reason for the bloody purge of Jang Song-thaek, a powerful figure in the North Korean regime and the uncle of leader Kim Jong-un, was his abuse of power during a state visit in August 2012 to China, where he allegedly ignored Kim’s orders and attempted to seek support from Beijing for his own political circle.

“The prelude to the political decline of Jang Song-thaek started in August 2012, when he visited China,” an official familiar with North Korean affairs told the JoongAng Ilbo.

At the time, Jang visited Beijing as a special envoy to his nephew, Kim Jong-un. According to the official, Jang’s official duty during the trip was to seek support from China for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, long denounced by the international community.

His state visit drew enormous media attention at the time, as Jang was accompanied by a group of high-ranking North Korean officials, and because he was received by Beijing with exceptional hospitality.

However, during the visit, Jang was more interested in boosting bilateral business with China, not in gaining China’s support for the regime’s nuclear weapons program.

“At the meeting with Chinese officials, including Hu Jintao, the president at the time, Jang Song-thaek’s focus was on drawing in China’s investment for the special economic zones in North Korea and increasing the export of North Korean minerals to China,” the official said. “As a pro-China politician, Jang also called for support from China for his political faction.”

Jang did not say a single word about the nuclear weapons program, the official added.

After the trip, Kim Jong-un was informed about Jang’s actions in China and expressed his anger about it, the official said, and that was why Kim sent Choe Ryong-hae, the director of the General Political Bureau of the North Korean Army, to China as his envoy in May 2013, and not Jang.

At the time, Choe tried to present himself to Chinese officials as the innermost figure in the Kim Jong-un regime, allegedly saying, “I’m the one who is authorized to communicate directly with Kim Jong-un,” the official said.

However, Beijing’s response to Choe was cold.

Unlike Jang, Choe had to wait for several days until he was allowed to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, on the last day of his visit.

Another factor in Jang’s dismissal was his attempt to control the foreign currency business, which resulted in many party and military officials turning their backs on him, the official said.

A factor in Kim’s decision to kill his uncle was Jang’s reputation for being a womanizer, another South Korean government official said, and Jang allegedly enjoyed parties with members of the Unhasu Orchestra, the regime’s official orchestra.

“If it is simply a money problem or because he abused his power, Jang would not have been executed,” said Ahn Chan-il, the director of the World North Korea Research Center. “It must have been an emotional and immediate decision because Kim Jong-un felt he and his aunt Kim Kyong-hui were being ignored.”


BY LEE YOUNG-JONG [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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