Exclusive: Jang Song-thaek was executed following his letter to Chinese leadership
The sources in North Korea that provided us with details of events leading up to Jang Song-thaek’s purge in November 2013 have now given us information that provides crucial insight into the circumstances surrounding his execution and the current configuration of power in the nation.
It has been revealed that in early 2013, Jang Song-thaek dispatched a letter to the Chinese leadership, explaining that he desired to instigate changes to the North Korean system such that its pivot of power would move away from the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) and towards the DPRK government, as overseen by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
This letter and its contents is said to have served as the decisive evidence that led to the removal of Jang Song-thaek from his post in the enlarged Politburo meeting, called by the KWP Organisation and Guidance Department (OGD) in early December of last year.
In the course of the four days of investigations and interrogations by the Ministry of State Security (MSS) that followed, details regarding the intent behind the dispatch, the date and method of its initial delivery, and Jang Song-thaek’s subsequent confidential exchanges with China are said to have been established.
Moreover, the judgement that Jang Song-thaek committed “anti-Party and anti-revolutionary acts” is said to have been passed on the basis of his intent to serve as the Prime Minister of the DPRK government. He was consequently sent for immediate execution.
The proceedings of the Ministry of State Security investigation were circulated among those who attended the enlarged Politburo meeting that removed Jang Song-thaek from his post.
Jang Song-thaek’s letter, the contents of which were disclosed in the enlarged Politburo meeting, reportedly claimed that “the greatest achievement of Comrade Kim Il-sung was that he established and developed the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea into a nation more wealthy and powerful than southern Chosun [South Korea]”.
The letter reasoned that “Comrade Kim Il-sung ruled through a government overseen by the Prime Minister and Cabinet in order to develop the nation’s light industry and agriculture, while maintaining the military industry as top priority”. It went on to assert that “in our current Party-pivoted system, the structures of the state are organised in such a way that everything must work at a lower priority than the Party’s ideological efforts.”
At the founding and in the early days of North Korea, the KWP was more akin to a “regional branch” that received absolute guidance and supervision from the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of the Soviet Union. During those years, the Cabinet and government was the main power, with Kim Il-sung’s associates in key government positions; but following Kim Jong-il’s rise to power through the Party since the 80s, the country has functioned as a KWP-pivoted system.
In the statement of the enlarged Politburo meeting, it was concluded that Jang Song-thaek’s intent had been to challenge Kim Jong-un’s rule by means of his plan to become Prime Minister; in the letter, Jang Song-thaek had explained that he wanted to develop the North Korean economy using the Cabinet and government as a pivot, in order to stabilise Kim Jong-un’s rule and maintain the current regime.
Jang Song-thaek had stated that his intention was to improve the independent strength and sustainability of the current regime through economic reforms, within the status quo of a division between north and south; and not to pursue unification that would lead to absorption by a foreign democracy.
He expressed the calculation and confidence that ultimately, this vision of north-south competition and co-existence would be well received by the Chinese leadership; therefore, Jang Song-thaek had asserted, Kim Jong-un himself had given permission for him to compose this letter in confidence.
The “Jang Song-thaek letter initiative” said to have been approved by Kim Jong-un, and the details of the MSS investigation that were subsequently circulated, have already leaked beyond the participants of the enlarged Politburo meeting, with knowledge of it now established among most cadres belonging to the central institutions.
The reason why Prime Minister Pak Pong-ju spoke in tears in the enlarged Politburo meeting is said to have been in direct response to the description in Jang Song-thaek’s letter of a “Cabinet and government that has been stripped of power”. Pak expounded the view that under the great guidance of the KWP, his Cabinet and government had in fact been able to thrive victoriously. Pak’s voice reportedly broke with emotion as he provided his statement justifying the centrality of the KWP over the Cabinet and government.
KWP’s secretary for Propaganda and Agitation Kim Ki-nam, who spoke from the same platform, provided explanations of how the very history of the KWP was the history of the great Supreme Leader himself; Ri Man-keon, KWP secretary for North Pyongan Province, testified that Jang Song-thaek had tried to hand over Sinuiju to China as a development zone.
Subsequently, on the orders of deputy director Cho Yeon-jun of the OGD, which had called the enlarged Politburo meeting, MSS guards who had been on standby were called and Jang Song-thaek was dragged away from the meeting hall.
Jang Song-thaek’s repeated assertion during the MSS investigation process – that the contents of the letter had not only had the approval of Kim Jong-un himself but his active support – was established as an even graver problem, and led to his immediate execution after just four days.
The scale and significance of this incident is perceived to be so great among cadres with membership in the central institutions that it is being referred to as the second “Hague emissary incident”.
In 1907, at the International Peace Conference held in The Hague, Kojong of Korea’s Chosun Dynasty had sent an emissary to assert that the Eulsa Treaty (Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty of 1905) was not valid. North Korea maintains that emissary Yi Jun committed suicide by disembowelment, protesting how the conference maintained silence regarding Japan’s invasion of Korea.
At present, the Ministry of State Security is conducting an extensive investigation, in order to establish who is responsible for leaking details that should have been restricted to those who attended the enlarged Politburo meeting. But it is thought that it is only a matter of time before the full account reaches the larger North Korean populace.
According to sources in situ, if it gets to the point where the news reaches the ordinary populace, “The number of people who sympathise with Jang Song-thaek because he attempted economic reform may increase”; moreover, “Feelings of disdain will likely grow regarding a Kim Jong-un who had supported the initiative, yet abandoned his uncle when the man was faced with purging and execution.”
In the statement issued by the MSS special military tribunal and published by North Korea’s state news agency KCNA on 13 December 2013, it was reported that “Jang Song-thaek had intended to concentrate his department and all relevant economic institutions into the Cabinet and government, serving as Prime Minister once the economy has crumbled into ruin and the state is on the verge of collapse.”
It was also claimed that Jang Song-thaek’s plan had been to seize control over the military to bring about a coup; and after the establishment of a new administration, he would have sought legitimacy for the coup by appealing to foreign powers and for international recognition.