Published On: Fri, Dec 13th, 2013

North Korea’s Execution of Jang Song Taek, Peace in the Korean Peninsula and National Sovereignty

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) , – Life has taken a final and dramatic turn for Jang Song Taek, whom many until recently perceived as the second most powerful leader in North Korea. What could the purge, the sentencing for the mismanagement of his economic opening portfolio and his execution have to do with the national security of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and with the prospect of peace in the Korean peninsula ?

Photo: Rodong Sinmun

Photo: Rodong Sinmun

A “final and dramatic turn” does not only signify the finality of death, but the fact that the political maneuvering of Jang Song Taek has led to several brushes with the political leadership, the military, and not least the justice system of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea before.

The Rise and the “Falls” of Jang Song Teak.

Jang Song Teak was the uncle by marriage to the DPRK’s leader Kim Jong-Un and the husband to Kim Kyung Hee, who is Kim Jong-Un’s aunt and younger sister of Kim Jong-Il, who he got acquainted with and courted during their time as students at the Kim Jon-Il University during the early 1970s.

The close relationship to the Kim family has doubtlessly opened doors for Jang Song Taek. Doors which he has used and which he also came to abuse. In 1986 he became a member of the Supreme People’s Assembly. In 1992 he became a member of the Party Central Committee, and in 1995 he was elected to the office of the First-Vice-Director of the Party’s Organization and Guidance Department. The title “vice” before the title of director however, was not exactly matching his apparently overly ambitious character, which should lead to his fall.

Thus, it was not the first time that Jang Song Daek ran into trouble when a bid to increase his power led to him being purged in 2004, and to his subsequent reinstatement in 2005 when he was tasked with the oversight over the DPRK’s domestic intelligence, police and judicial institutions. His work led to his April 2009 promotion to a key job within the DPRK’s National Defense Commission. Simultaneously, Jang Song Taek was chosen to become one of the closest advisers to Kim Jong-Un, who was to become the DPRK’s head of state after the death of Kin Jong-Il in December 2011.

After the death of Kim Jong-Il in December 2011, Jang Song Taek was elected as one of the core, senior leaders and advisers to Kim Jong-UN. A position which was essential to secure a smooth transition of power to the new head of state, and a position which was particularly sensitive because Korea is still in a de facto state of war, regularly threatened with military aggression by the USA and South Korea, and more dependent on UN Security Council members China and Russia than international law provides for.

Finally, his position was also particularly sensitive, because Kim Jong-Un had plans to transform the DPRK’s economy without threatening the political system, the stability and continuity of government and national security. It was Jang Song Taek’s machinations with regard to the latter, and highly sensitive issue, which most likely led to his betrayal and ultimately his fall and execution on 13 December 2013.

On 13 November, his close deputies Ri Ryong Ha and Chang Su Kil were reportedly executed and Jang Song Taek was placed under house arrest. He was formally taken into custody during an 8 December 2013 Political Bureau Committee meeting, reported in the DPRK’s state news agency KCNA on 9 December 2013. (1)

On 12 December 2013, KCNA reports, Jang Song Taek was convicted of the crimes he had been charged with at a special military tribunal of the Ministry of State Security and sentenced to death. The death sentence was carried out without any delay. The charges which had been brought against him included the serious mismanagement of his, highly sensitive, portfolio, and charges which are equivalent to conspiring against the country and severe corruption. (2)

The exact machinations of Jang Song Taek, which led to his arrest, the death penalty and his execution on 13 December are still unclear, and some aspects of it may have to remain undisclosed for reasons of national security. That said, his arrest and trial were covered extensively by the DPRK’s media and may send the signal that Kim Jong-Un is not only consolidating the government transition, but that the Korean leadership stands firmly behind Kim Jong-Un and does not tolerate that those who are holding the most trusted offices in the country conspire against the course for the development of the DPRK which has been set by its government.

Kim Jong UnTwo Models for Transformational Changes of the DPRK’s Economy and their Importance for Kim Jong-Un’s Vision of Peace.

Not only announced Kim Jong-Un, in his 2013 New Years speech, that he wanted to reform the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s economy, but he announced that he planned to transform the DPRK into a regional economic powerhouse. (3) The announcement, made on the New Years evening of 2013 however, was reaching far beyond the country’s economic development. In fact, it was a strong message of peace.

A message that was based on an acutely clear comprehension of the fact that a peaceful reunification of Korea only could be achieved if the economies of the North and the South of the divided country were compatible in strength. As outlined in a previous article, Kim Jong-Un had been working closely with German advisers who were able to convey the experiences from the German reunification, some of which were bitter experiences, and who worked with Korean experts so as to adapt them to the Korean situation. (4)

Kim Jong-Un a man with visions of peace ? It almost sounds unbelievable if to judge by the BBC, CNN and other western corporate and state funded media. Moreover, this image of a Kim Jong-Un with visions of peace does not even transpire in Chinese media, or in the Russian state-funded media “with an independent editorial policy” like Russia Today (RT).

The above mentioned article details also, why both Russia and China knowingly supported UN sponsored sanctions against the DPRK after it sent its first satellite into Earth Orbit and again, after the leadership of the DPRK responded to the illegal sanctions, which were designed to sabotage its economic development as a “sovereign nation”, by conducting a “legal” underground nuclear test. (5) (6)

The formal charges which have been brought against Jang Song Taek, and especially the fact that he was accused of mismanaging his economic opening portfolio, as KCNA reports, strongly suggest that Jang Song Taek did not only have problems with reconciling himself with the plans for the development of the DPRK’s economy which have been set by Kim Jong-Un, but that he most likely actively worked against them, which would be comparable to the economic sabotage of the country’s economic development. (7)

In the light of the country’s long-term development and policy towards a peaceful reunification, any such sabotage would amount to a serious threat against national security and the long-term goal towards a self determined Korean peace.

After several years of close consultations with international experts, including leading German experts who could draw on the experience of Germany’s reunification, the leadership of the DPRK and Kim Jong-Un decided to use the Vietnamese blueprint for the transformation of the DPRK’s economy which was developed into the DPRK’s own model in its Juche tradition when it is at its best. (8)

Jang Song Taek was known for being a strong proponent of the Deng Xiao Ping – style Chinese model for economic transformation. The model has several critical drawbacks with regard to the DPRK, especially with regards to the political stability and continuity of government during the transition period and afterwards.

One of the major differences between China and the DPRK is that the DPRK is by far more exposed and vulnerable to foreign subversion attempts and even military aggression than China.

Moreover, although neither China nor Russia are as aggressive hegemonies as the USA, who still has the war time command over the South Korean military forces, both China and Russia have their own interests and foreign policy, which does not always has the best of the DPRK at heart.

One just has to remember the fact that both China and Russia voted concurrently with the late 2012, early 2013 round of illegal sanctions against the DPRK at the UN Security Council. A de facto abuse of their privilege of being permanent members of the UN Security Council and a privilege that derived from their status as victor powers of World War Two.

Finally, if one recalls Kim Jong-Un’s 1 January 2013 New Year’s speech, one realizes that Kim Jong-Un and the DPRK have no ambitions of exclusively being the provider of cheap labor and low-price minerals and natural resources for China. Kim Jong-Un and his government aspire towards good neighborly relations among co-equal partners and the research and development as well as production in the field of high-technology.

It is within this wider context that the “mismanagement of Jang Song Taek’s economic opening portfolio” can be understood as the significant threat to the DPRK’s national sovereignty and national security, which not only justified that he was purged, but which justified his execution as a man who, most likely, has been guilty of what amounts to high treason. It is also within this context that one understands the rather emotional nicknames like “that dog” and others, which have been attributed to Jang Song Daek.

Personally, I am against the death penalty unless under the most extreme of circumstances, but that is an entirely different discussion all together. Not surprisingly, the most outspoken condemnations of the execution of Jang Song Taek comes from countries, whose leadership was responsible for the execution of Saddam Hussein and the murder that was committed against Muammar Gadhafi.

Notes:

  1. Report on Enlarged Meeting of Political Bureau of Central Committee of WPK, KCNA, 9 December 2013. URL:http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2013/201312/news09/20131209-05ee.html 
  2. No Room for Factionists to Live in: News Analyst, KCNA, 12 December 2013. URL: http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2013/201312/news12/20131212-18ee.html
  3. New Year Address made by Kim Jong-Un, KCNA, 1 January 2013. URL: http://www.kcna.co.jp/index-e.htm
  4. Korea Crisis and Sanctions Designed to Sabotage Transformation of DPRK Economy, Christof Lehmann, nsnbc international, 20 April 2013. URL: http://nsnbc.me/2013/04/20/korea-crisis-and-sanctions-designed-to-sabotage-transformation-of-dprk-economy-in-2013/
  5. US Financial Sanctions Against DPRK as the Godfather of Nuclear Tests on Korea, Ronda Hauben, 5 April 2013, The 4th Media, also in nsnbc international. URL: http://nsnbc.me/2013/04/05/us-financial-sanctions-against-dprk-as-the-godfather-of-nuclear-tests-on-korea/
  6. North Korea Nuclear Test: Diplomatic Tensions and Hypocrisy, Christof Lehmann, 12 February 2013, nsnbc international. URL: http://nsnbc.me/2013/02/12/north-korea-nuclear-test-diplomatic-tensions-and-hypocrisy/
  7. Report on Enlarged Meeting of Political Bureau of Central Committee of WPK, KCNA, 9 December 2013. URL:http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2013/201312/news09/20131209-05ee.html 
  8. Korea Crisis and Sanctions Designed to Sabotage Transformation of DPRK Economy, Christof Lehmann, nsnbc international, 20 April 2013. URL: http://nsnbc.me/2013/04/20/korea-crisis-and-sanctions-designed-to-sabotage-transformation-of-dprk-economy-in-2013/

About the Author

- Dr. Christof Lehmann is the founder and editor of nsnbc. He is a psychologist and independent political consultant on conflict and conflict resolution and a wide range of other political issues. His work with traumatized victims of conflict has led him to also pursue the work as political consultant. He is a lifelong activist for peace and justice, human rights, Palestinians rights to self-determination in Palestine, and he is working on the establishment of international institutions for the prosecution of all war crimes, also those committed by privileged nations. On 28 August 2011 he started his blog nsnbc, appalled by misrepresentations of the aggression against Libya and Syria. In March 2013 he turned nsnbc into a daily, independent, international on-line newspaper. He can be contacted at nsnbc international at nsnbc.wordpress@gmail.com

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