Analysis

North Korea's Brutal Purge Raises Serious Security Questions
Jang Song Thaek, uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, view a military parade during a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the birth of Kim's father, the late leader Kim Jong Il, in Pyongyang on Feb. 16, 2012. (Kyodo via AP Images)
December 18, 2013
| Security
| Asia and the Pacific
Summary
The uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stood accused of treason, corruption, drug use, and womanizing, but no one outside the Hermit Kingdom knows for sure why he was purged and executed. Whatever was behind this chilling turn of events may reflect growing instability within the North Korean leadership and is being viewed by analysts as significant in terms of the country’s complex and close relationship with China.
 
Several scenarios could explain the bizarre and sudden decision to execute Jang Song Thaek, ranging from a coup attempt, Kim consolidating his power, or pressure on Kim from other power elites. Regional states are very concerned about this development because of North Korea’s arsenal of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and reports that Jang may have been killed in part due to his close relationship with China, the only country with any leverage over the rogue regime.
Jang was the second most powerful official in North Korea and had held high-level positions in Pyongyang for decades. He became a regent and mentor to Kim Jong Un, 30, when he assumed power on Dec. 17, 2011, after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il. Jang reportedly favored economic reforms and was closely involved in trade deals with Beijing.
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