Published : 2013-12-04 19:44
Updated : 2013-12-04 19:44
The presumed downfall of Jang Song-thaek, a key guardian and uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, illustrates again the precariousness of the reclusive regime and may have a significant impact on inter-Korean relations ― probably in a negative direction.
In a report to members of the parliamentary intelligence committee Tuesday, the nation’s top espionage agency said Jang appeared to have been removed from the power echelon, noting that he had disappeared from the public eye since two of his closest confidants were executed late last month.
Intelligence officials should mobilize all means to grasp an accurate picture of what is going on inside Pyongyang’s ruling circle, which will be essential to handling inter-Korean ties in the near future. Jang, married to late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il’s younger sister in 1976, had returned to power after being purged twice in the past, though it may be harder to repeat such a political feat this time.
He played a key role in keeping the regime on track after Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke in 2008, and in paving the way for Kim Jong-un to assume power after his father’s death in 2011. In that time, he held a broad range of powerful posts, including vice chairman of the National Defense Commission and head of the administration department of the Workers’ Party.
It appears that the young North Korean leader wanted to remove his 67-year-old uncle as his mentor to consolidate his monolithic rule. Jang’s close ties with the Chinese leadership may have made Kim feel more uneasy toward him. Without Jang’s help, however, the inexperienced ruler, who is thought to be around 30, may face more difficulties in running his impoverished state, especially in the work to improve economic conditions, which has been largely overseen by Jang and his aides.
If Jang lost a power struggle to a group of hard-line military figures, his downfall would disturb the delicate power balance in the North, and heighten the uncertainty over the future of the regime in Pyongyang. North Korean military leaders are known to have been disgruntled about some economic initiatives pushed by Jang’s group that would reduce their power.
Officials in Seoul say they are closely monitoring the situation in the North, working on measures to cope with possible emergencies. Caution should be heightened against the danger of North Korea repeating its habit of provoking the South to cover up internal vulnerabilities.