The December 13 execution of Kim Jong-Un’s uncle and regent, Jang Song-thaek, shocked experts worldwide due to its unusual publicity and its proximity to Pyongyang's all powerful leader, Kim Jong-un. Why was Jang purged?
Peking University Professor Zhu Feng suggests the brutal, public nature of the execution reflects growing anxiety among military hardliners in North Korea and their desire to eliminate not just Jang but also his followers. Jang had a reputation in China as a trusted interlocutor who favored Chinese-style economic reform and an expanded China-North Korea trade relationship. The published descriptions of Jang’s crimes include what seem to be veiled attacks on China, including that Jang was selling off North Korean mining resources and land at cheap prices to a foreign country. Zhu says it is too early to see what affect these accusations will have on bilateral relations.
Zhu believes it is less likely that Kim will stage a provocation in the aftermath of the purge, as the young leader needs to deal with the destabilizing effects of the reshuffling and focus on finding replacement authorities. If Kim does commit a further provocation, Zhu says, he risks completely alienating Beijing. Zhu adds that Beijing and Washington should intensify cooperation and candid discussions on working together to address the North Korea issue.
Zhu Feng is currently a professor at Peking University’s School of International Studies and deputy director of the Center for International and Strategic Studies (CISS). He writes extensively on regional security in East Asia, the nuclear issue in North Korea, American national security strategy, China-U.S. relations, and missile defense. He is a leading Chinese security expert and a senior research fellow at the Center for Peace and Development of China.
Paul Haenle is the director of the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center. Prior to joining Carnegie, he served from June 2007 to June 2009 as the director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolian Affairs on the National Security Council staffs of former president George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.