Daniel Schearf – SEOUL — South Korea has called the recently announced political purges at the top of North Korea’s leadership a “reign of terror” that could further destabilize their already shaky relations. Meanwhile, North Korean media continue to attack the uncle of leader Kim Jong Un who was very publicly removed from power.
North Korea on Monday confirmed earlier reports that Jang Song Thaek, the uncle of Kim Jong Un and assumed second in command had been abruptly removed from power over disloyal and corrupt behavior.
South Korea’s spy agency broke the story last week and said two of Jang’s assistants were executed in public in November. It said authorities are going after his followers.
President Park said the dismissals and executions amounted to a “reign of terror” with potentially destabilizing effects.
She says North-South Korea relations could become more unstable from now on. At a time like this, she says, it is the duty of the state, as well as the political parties that represent the people, to firmly protect the South Korean people’s security and liberal democracy.
Jang was labeled as leading a self-indulgent, “capitalist” lifestyle that included drug use, womanizing, and gambling. North Korea’s state media published photographs and accounts of Jang being arrested at a Korean Workers Party meeting by uniformed officers.
The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Tuesday quoted North Korean citizens saying Jang and his supporters should be put to death. The newspaper urged unity and loyalty under Kim Jong Un vowing to never forgive traitors.
Jung Sung-jang, a researcher at Seoul’s Sejong Institute, says it is unlikely that Jang’s purging will impact North Korean policy in any dramatic way. But he says it will definitely stiffen the dynamics within the country, which could prompt Pyongyang to temporarily adopt a more stringent stance.
Jang was also accused of selling off North Korea’s resources at a cheap price, an apparent reference to China which buys most of its exports. He was in charge of negotiating Chinese investment in special economic zones.
Some Western political analysts say Jang may have been removed because Pyongyang believed he became too close to Beijing.
But Professor of Korean history at Kookmin University Andrei Lankov argues Jang’s role in the bilateral relationship was not so clear and ties with Beijing are not likely to be affected.
“He is not a China hand. He is not a person who has close, personal connections in China, a good understanding of how China works and so on. I would say that probably it will not change much or maybe will not change anything because Chinese will be equally eager to talk to a new face,” he said.
Beijing’s state run Global Times newspaper Tuesday said China should help bring about Kim Jong-Un’s visit as soon as possible for the benefit of friendly ties and long-term stability.
The 30-year-old Kim Jong Un’s neglecting to visit China since coming to power two years ago, and a third nuclear test in March, were widely viewed as a snub.
The editorial noted balancing friendship with Pyongyang while opposing its nuclear weapons is a test for China’s diplomacy. Beijing is trying to revive the long-stalled six-nation talks it hosts on denuclearizing North Korea.
Japan, South Korea, and the United States are refusing to negotiate until North Korea demonstrates it is serious about giving up its nuclear programs.
VOA Seoul producer Youmi Kim contributed to this report.
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