North Korean official ‘was expected to be sidelined’
London, 5 December
If he has been sidelined, then it is not for the first time.
In 2004, Jang Song-taek, a senior official within the North Korean administration of Kim Jong-il, found himself out of favour. Whether it was something he had done or said or whether he was simply considered to have become too powerful was unclear, but suddenly he was no longer seen around.
Some reports suggested he was punished by house arrest in Pyongyang; others said he had been dispatched for more stern re-education in the mines. Either way, he gradually worked his way back, recovering both favour and influence to the extent that when Kim Jong-il died in 2011, Mr Jang was one of just handful of people allowed to walk alongside the Supreme Leader’s funeral cortege. This time around, Mr Jang has fallen out with the man he paced just a few steps behind at that funeral ~ Kim Jong-il’s third and youngest son and his successor as Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un. According to second-hand reports from South Korean Intelligence, Mr Jang has not been seen at public events for a number of weeks and has probably been sacked as vice-chairman of the powerful National Defence Commission (NDC).
Experts warn that little is transparent about the machinations inside North Korea. They warn too that the source of the information, namely South Korean Intelligence officials whose statements have been made public by South Korean members, have got things wrong before.
At the same time, few have expressed surprise at the developments. Others have said they had anticipated Mr Jang could even have been ousted from the centre of power before now.
“It was something that was expected,” said Dr Andrei Lankov, a Russian expert on North Korea, who teaches at Seoul’s Kookmin University.
“What you have is an absolute monarchy and a young king who is very ambitious. And then you have regents who are supposed to support him… Being a regent is a politically difficult job because once the king becomes powerful enough he decides he does not need the older guard.”
Many believe that when Kim Jong-il fell ill and suffered a stroke in 2008 and Kim Jong-un, now aged 30, was selected as the surprise successor, Mr Jang was brought back into the inner circle to act as a mentor to the young man set to take over the dynasty.
He was considered reliable, partly because he is married to Kim Jong-il&’s sister, Kyong Hui, whom he met at university. In 2009, Mr Jang was appointed to the NDC and the following year he was made vice-chairman of the senior military body, evidence that he had been forgiven.
Dr Lankov said Mr Jang, 67, who is said to enjoy playing the accordion, may have been pushed aside now because he represents the old guard. It was very difficult, he said, for a leader aged just 30 to be surrounded by so many ageing officials. Others believe Mr Jang may have fallen out because he is a reformer who wanted to push his country towards Chinese-style capitalism. the independent