Jang Song-thaek (Korean: [tɕaŋ sʌŋ.tʰɛk]; also romanized as
Jang Sung-taek, Chang Sŏng-t'aek and other variations; January or
February 1946 – 12 December 2013) was a leading figure in the
government of North Korea. He was married to Kim Kyong-hui, the only
daughter of former North Korean supreme leader Kim Il-sung, and the
only sister of former North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-il. He was
also the uncle of Kim Jong-un. All of them were supreme leaders of
Although the precise extent of Jang Song-thaek's power and position
during his life cannot be confirmed, in 2008 South Korean government
officials and academic
North Korea experts suggested that he had taken
on de facto leadership over
North Korea while Kim Jong-il's health was
declining and when Kim subsequently died. Jang was vice-chairman of
the National Defence Commission, a position considered second only to
that of the Supreme Leader. He is believed to have been promoted to
four-star general around the time of Kim Jong-il's death as his first
appearance in uniform was while visiting Kim lying in state. Jang
was considered a "key policy adviser" to Kim Jong-un.
In December 2013, Jang was abruptly accused of being a
counter-revolutionary and was stripped of all his posts and expelled
Workers' Party of Korea
Workers' Party of Korea (WPK). His photos were removed from
official media and his image digitally removed from photos with other
North Korean leaders. On 13 December,
North Korea state media
announced he had been executed. There have been external reports
that many members of his family have also been killed.
1 Early life and family
2 Early career
4 Under Kim Jong-un
9 See also
11 External links
Early life and family
Jang was born in Chongjin, during the
Soviet Civil Administration
Soviet Civil Administration of
Northern Korea. He graduated from the
Kim Il-sung Senior High School
before leaving for Moscow, where he studied at Moscow State University
between 1968 and 1972. Following his return, he married Kim
Kyong-hui, the younger (and only) sister of Kim Jong-il. The couple
had a daughter, Jang Kum-song (1977–2006), who lived in Paris as an
international student; she refused an order to return to
then reportedly committed suicide in September 2006, due to Jang and
his wife's opposition to her relationship with her boyfriend. Kim
Kyong-hui was reported executed by poison in May 2014 because she
complained about her husband's execution.
Beginning in the 1970s, Jang held a series of positions in the
Workers' Party of Korea. His first post was as an instructor for
Pyongyang City Committee of the Workers' Party. In the late
1970s, however Jang's career stalled when he was sent away from the
central party to be manager of a steel and ironworks in Nampo, an
apparent demotion. Reports said that he was becoming too powerful or,
according to other accounts, he had an over-ostentatious
lifestyle. It was reported that Jang suffered severe burns in an
industrial accident at the factory in Chollima/Kangson. His career
recovered and he became deputy director of the Youth Work Department
of the KWP Central Committee in 1982 and director in 1985. He was
first elected to the
Supreme People's Assembly
Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), North Korea's
nominal parliament, in 1986.
In April 1989, Jang was made a People's Hero; in June 1989, he was
elected an alternate member of the Central Committee of the Workers'
Party of Korea. In April 1992, He was named a member of the Order
of Kim Il-sung. Later that year he was promoted to full member of the
Central Committee. He was a member of the funeral committee for Kim
Il-sung in 1994. Jang was appointed to be the first deputy
director (or vice director) of the WPK's Organization and Guidance
Department in November 1995. He had been identified by outside
analysts as well as North Korean defector
Hwang Jang-yop as a possible
successor to Kim Jong-il; however, on 25 November 2004, South Korea's
National Assembly heard testimony that he had been purged from his
position. Some South Korean intelligence reports indicated that
Jang was under house arrest in Pyongyang, while others suggested he
might have been sent for "reeducation".
Jang re-emerged in March 2006, accompanying
Kim Jong-il on an official
visit to China. In October 2007, the Korean Central News Agency
confirmed that Jang had been promoted to the newly recreated post of
first vice-director of the Workers' Party of Korea, with oversight
responsibility for the police, judiciary, and other areas of internal
security; Jang attended South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun's luncheon
during the latter's visit to the North. It was later revealed that
Jang had been actually appointed director of the Administration
Department, an old agency of the Workers' Party abolished in 1990 and
re-created by splitting the Organization Department. He was elected to
National Defence Commission
National Defence Commission in April 2009. He was made
vice-chairman of the commission in summer 2010.
During this period he was a close ally of Kim Jong-il. Jang was
still in the post four years later, in April 2013. The NDC is
North Korea's de facto supreme decision-making body; Jang's promotion
made him a key executive deputy, second only to Kim Jong-il. It is
speculated that the move was part of posturing to make Kim Jong-il's
Kim Jong-un the next leader of North Korea. Jang's position in
North Korean politics was also ostensibly boosted by the death of Ri
Je-gang, a senior leader who was tipped by
Kim Jong-il as a crucial
overseer of the succession campaign.
Under Kim Jong-un
On 25 December 2011, North Korean television Sunday showed Jang in the
uniform of a general. A Seoul official familiar with North Korea
affairs said it was the first time Jang has been shown on state
television in a military uniform. His appearance suggested that Jang
had secured a key role in the North's military, which had pledged its
allegiance to Kim Jong-un. Jang's importance continued to be
demonstrated during his 2012 visit to China: various aspects of the
visit echoed protocol which had previously been followed only for Kim
Jong-il, including half of his entourage arriving ahead of time as an
advance party, with the Chinese ambassador to North Korea, Liu
Hongcai, returning to
China beforehand to greet Jang upon his
On 17 August 2012, Jang met with China's premier,
Wen Jiabao in
Ziguangge, Zhongnanhai. He met with China's president Hu Jintao, Wang
Jiarui, head of China's international department of the CPC central
committee and minister in charge of the national development and
reform commission, Zhang Ping, minister of finance Xie Xuren, minister
of commerce Chen Deming, Liaoning provincial party chief Wang Min,
Jilin provincial party chief Sun Zhengcai, and vice foreign minister
Zhang Zhijun. He was the head of a delegation of the joint
steering committee for developing and managing the Rason Economic and
Trade Zone and the Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa Islands Economic Zone.
In the announcement, he was listed as chief of the central
administrative department of the Workers' Party of Korea, a member of
the WPK political bureau, and vice-chairman of the National Defense
Kim Jong-un believed that bilateral relations with
important and that the "profound friendship will be passed on from
generation to generation" between
China and North Korea. At the
meeting with Wen, Jang said: "The DPRK is willing to closely cooperate
China to accelerate relevant efforts and push forward cooperation
in developing economic zones."
On 4 November 2012, the WPK Central Committee Politburo established a
new State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission, appointing
Jang as its first chairman. An analyst suggests that this quiet
promotion may have signaled a decline in Jang's status: in North
Korea, "although sports can bring quick popularity, earn foreign
exchange, raise patriotic fever, and help burn the energies of the
youth and distract the masses from their daily hardships, it can never
beat national security and socio-economic development in terms of its
political significance. By asking Jang to chair the National Sports
Commission, the young North Korean leader, less than a year into
power, might have begun to nudge his uncle out of important policy
In January 2013, speculation arose that Jang had been quietly promoted
to top decision-making Politburo Presidium member, as his official
hierarchy position was elevated, displacing then-Chief of General
Hyon Yong-chol and his own wife Kim Kyong-hui. An analyst
argued that Jang might be appointed president of the presidium of the
Supreme People's Assembly
Supreme People's Assembly (making him the nominal head of state of the
DPRK) or premier, replacing officeholders who were in their 80s.
Jang Song-thaek promoted the construction of a new bridge over the
Yalu River between the Chinese city of Dandong and the Korean city of
Sinuiju. As of December 2013[update], the bridge was nearly
completed. That same month, Jang was not invited to the meeting of
top North Korean officials handling national security and foreign
affairs, following a rocket launch on 12 December 2012, and new
international sanctions in response. Following Jang's fall from
power, an analyst noted that Jang's "glaring absence" at the January
2013 meeting "signaled the emergence of a possible crack in the senior
leadership, especially in the relationship between Kim and his
all-powerful uncle, raising the possibility of divergent approaches
between Kim and Jang" on
North Korea foreign policy.
In late May 2013, Choe Ryong-hae, a vice-chairman of Central Military
Commission and director of the KPA General Political Department, was
sent as Kim Jong-un's first special envoy to China, passing over
Jang. An analyst viewed this as a "striking" choice, and noted
that "it appears that as the perceived '
China man in Pyongyang'",
Jang's "perceived close ties with
China may have done a disservice to
his standing in the eyes of Kim, exposed him to criticism of being too
subservient to China, and made him vulnerable to any anti-China
backlash in Pyongyang". Thought to have been particularly
Kim Jong-un were Jang's "continued expression of
sympathy towards" Kim Jong-nam—Kim Jong-un's half-brother and Kim
Jong-il's eldest son—who was living in exile under Chinese
protection at the time.
According to the New York Times, the final straw came from a dispute
over control of North Korea's west coast fisheries. These had been
partly taken from the military by
Kim Jong-un in 2011, but later this
decision was reversed and the fisheries were ordered returned to the
military. Forces loyal to Jang defied the transfer, leading to a
confrontation in late 2013, in which several North Korean soldiers
Kim Jong-un were killed. Subsequent reinforcements sent by
Kim Jong-un seized control of the fisheries.
Soon after, in November 2013, Jang's senior aides Lee Yong-ha and Jang
Soo-kee were executed. Lee was reportedly accused of abusing
his authority, while Jang Soo-kee was found guilty of trying to
organize a new faction and rejecting the system.
Jang had not been seen in public since. On 3 December he was dismissed
from his post. On 7 December, his appearances were obscured or
edited out from a news report (originally aired in October) that
re-aired on Korean Central Television.
On 8 December,
Jang Song-thaek was publicly expelled from the ruling
Workers' Party of Korea
Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), with state media attributing this to a
decision of the Politburo. Jang was accused of having committed
"anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts" that included
illicit affairs with women; harboring "politically-motivated
ambition"; weakening "the party's guidance over judicial, prosecution
and people's security bodies" and obstructing "the nation's economic
Jang's arrest at a politburo meeting was broadcast on Korean Central
Television, the state television broadcaster, in "the most public
dismissal... in history" of a prominent North Korean official,
and the first time since the 1970s that a senior politician was
arrested in a party meeting on live television. Wen Wei Po
reported that Lee Yun-keol (the chairman for the Seoul-based North
Korea Strategy Information Service Center) stated that Kim Jong-chul
(Kim Jong-un's elder brother) had personally led his guards to arrest
Jang. Lee said that "even Vice Marshal
Choe Ryong-hae would not
dare to carry out the arrest" himself (some analysts believe this
may signal an expanded role for
Kim Jong-chul in the regime).
A 2700-word statement was released, stating that the "despicable human
scum Jang, who was worse than a dog, perpetrated thrice-cursed acts of
treachery in betrayal of such profound trust and warmest paternal love
shown by the party and the leader for him". The statement detailed
many charges against Jang, stating that he "had desperately worked for
years to destabilize and bring down the DPRK and grab the supreme
power of the party and state by employing all the most cunning and
sinister means and methods". The statement accused Jang of freeing
"the undesirable and alien elements, including those who had been
dismissed and relieved of their posts after being severely punished
for disobeying the instructions of Kim Jong Il and "let them work in
the WPK CC [Korean Workers' Party Central Committee] Administrative
Department and organs under it in a crafty manner", which some
analysts claim indicates that Jang had instigated a nationwide amnesty
in January 2012 which included the closure of several North Korea
prison camps and the release of prisoners. An analyst suggested that
"since most of the political prisoners freed at that time are now
deemed as Jang's factionists, most of them are likely to be returned
to jail again". The statement accused Jang of bringing "serious harm
to the youth movement in the DPRK, being part of the group of
renegades and traitors in the field of youth work, bribed by the
An analyst believes that Choe Ryong-hae, "the party-appointed shepherd
of the North Korean youth for over a decade" through his position in
Kim Il-sung Socialist Youth League, linked Jang to this crime.
The statement accused Jang of seeking to enlarge his own power,
"stretching his tentacles to all ministries and national institutions"
and turning the Korean Workers' Party Central Committee Administration
Department, which Jang led, into a "little kingdom which no one dares
Kim Jong-un disbanded the Administrative Department after
Jang's fall. The statement also said that Jang had "systematically
denied the party line and policies, its organizational will" as if he
were "a special being who could overrule either issues decided by the
party or its line" and that Jang had been "disobeying the order of the
Supreme Commander of the KPA" (i.e. undermining Kim's rule). He
was also accused of undermining the Kim personality cult, which
included placing a granite monument carved with the supreme leader's
words "in a shaded corner"; letting "the decadent capitalist lifestyle
find its way to our society by distributing all sorts of pornographic
pictures among his confidants"; and "half-heartedly clapping, touching
off towering resentment of our service personnel and people" when one
of Kim Jong-un's promotions was announced.
On 12 December 2013, Jang was tried by a special military tribunal of
the Ministry of State Security and executed, according to state
Chinese media and
North Korea experts suggested that Jang Song-thaek's
fall reflected a rejection of his efforts to prioritize economic
development, and a victory for North Korean advocates of a
military-first policy. Chang Yong-seok, senior researcher at the
Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National
University, said Jang was "the only one in the North who could talk
about economic change. So, when I heard of Mr. Jang's execution, my
first thought was that it was a death notice for those of us who have
hoped for economic reform in the North."
Analysts of North Korean politics agreed that Jang's execution was the
most significant since purges carried out in the 1950s by Kim Il-Sung,
Kim Jong-un's grandfather and North Korea's founder; since 1960,
purged top officials have not usually been killed, and the
denunciations of purged figures have not typically been so extreme and
public. Professor Charles K. Armstrong, an expert on North
Korea at Columbia University, stated that "although high-ranking
leaders, including members of the Kim family, have been deposed
before, we haven't seen anything this public or dramatic since Kim
Kim Il-sung purged his last major rivals in the
late 1950s. This seems to indicate the divisions within the Kim regime
were more serious than previously thought." Former U.S. National
Security Council director for Asian affairs
Victor Cha said that the
purge and execution of Jang "tells you that everything's not normal
... When you take out Jang, you're not taking out just one person –
you're taking out scores if not hundreds of other people in the
system. It's got to have some ripple effect."
On the other hand, some analysts suggested that Jang's influence and
role had been exaggerated. Professor Chung-in Moon from Yonsei
University noted that there had been no policy shifts in the North
Korean government and that some of Jang's closest associates,
Pak Pong-ju and Kang Sok-ju, had kept their positions. He
also noted that Kim Jong-un's cabinet continued to emphasize economic
incentive systems, innovation, and economic cooperation with China.
Professor Chung-in said that "He [Jang] could, therefore, have been
purged and executed because of his obsession with material and
organizational interests that challenged Kim Jong Un's reform
initiative to streamline the country's economic management. If this
turns out to be true, then Kim Jong Un should be seen as a reformer,
whilst Jang was a reactionary." In another analysis he stressed
that Jang's removal had not weakened the government, which was
actually more stable than before: "The politics of extensive
surveillance, control, fear and intimidation are still alive and well.
The party, the state, the military and security apparatus remain
committed, effective and unified in purpose. The dramatic episode of
Jang's downfall has created a formidable deterrent to any potential or
actual opposing groups."
Following Jang's fall, experts speculated that purges of other top
figures might follow. An anonymous source said Ji Jae-ryong, North
Korean ambassador to
China and a close associate of Jang, "will
eventually be dealt with"; however South Korean diplomatic sources
said it was "business as usual" at that embassy. In early
Pyongyang recalled two ambassadors: from
nephew Jang Yong-chol, from
Cuba Jang's brother-in-law Jon
Yong-jin. Deputy tourism minister Jo Sung-goyu, another Jang
relative, canceled a planned trip to a tourism summit in Kaohsiung,
The public received word of Jang's dismissal in the
Rodong Sinmun on
12 December and were called to meetings to denounce Jang and pledge
loyalty to Kim. Two days later, on 14 December, the Korean Central
News Agency (KCNA) released a roster of six top officials appointed to
a national committee in charge of organizing a state funeral for Kim
Kuk-tae (a former Workers' Party official who recently died). The
roster included the names of Jang's widow (Kim Jong-un's aunt), Kim
Kyong-hui, and vice-premier, Ro Du-chol, indicating both survived the
purge and remained in favor. KCNA and
Rodong Sinmun began
erasing references to Jang "as completely as possible", deleting
some 100,000 and 20,000 news items from their websites,
The status of Kim Kyong-hui's relationship with Jang had been a
subject of frequent speculation. Analysts believe that Jang and Kim
Kyong-hui had been estranged. Yoon Sang-hyun, a National Assembly
South Korea deputy floor leader of the governing Saenuri Party, had
said previously that Kim had been "separated" from Jang and did not
oppose his purge. Following the execution,
Chosun Ilbo reported
Choe Ryong-hae may now be the "number 2 man" in North Korea. The
South Korean newspaper reported claims that
Kim Jong-il "asked Choe on
his deathbed to help his son Jong-un" but that the North Korean
military disapproves of Choe.
In January 2014, the South Korean
Yonhap News Agency
Yonhap News Agency reported that the
purge had extended to Jang's family, with all his relatives, including
children, being rounded up and executed. According to a South
Korean newspaper, Jang's nephew, O Sang-hon, was executed by being
burnt alive with a flame thrower.
South Korea – The
Yonhap News Agency
Yonhap News Agency reported that South
Korea held a security ministers' meeting to discuss the North Korean
Kim Jang-soo chaired the meeting. Earlier in the week, the
South Korean president
Park Geun-hye told a Cabinet meeting that
North Korea is now engaged in a reign of terror while carrying out a
massive purge" to consolidate Kim Jong-un's power. The unification
ministry issued a statement saying that: "The government has deep
concerns about a recent series of developments in
North Korea and is
watching the situation closely." South Korean defense chief
Kim Kwan-jin told a parliamentary defense meeting on 13
December: "We will heighten readiness against
North Korea as (Jang's
execution) can lead to provocations against the South. This case can
be seen as part of the reign of terror by Kim Jong-Un as he is seeking
to consolidate his power with an iron fist."
China – Following the reports of Jang's death, the
Chinese foreign ministry stated only that the fall of Jang was a
"domestic issue", but reports indicated that "China's North Korea
experts have been working furiously to come up with [a] consensus"
about the resulting implications. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi
China is observing the situation, but that it does not
expect major shifts in North Korean policies.
Japan – Chief cabinet secretary
Yoshihide Suga told the
Kyodo News agency that the Japanese government was "closely watching
the situation" and that "We will calmly monitor the situation while
communicating with other countries and collect relevant
Sweden – Swedish foreign minister
Carl Bildt condemned
the execution as "Stalinist" and stated: "I think that what we see now
publicly is only the surface of an empire of horror."
United Kingdom – Prime minister David Cameron's official
spokesman told reporters at a daily press briefing: "If this is
confirmed, it is another example of the extreme brutality of the North
Korean regime." Hugo Swire, minister of state at the Foreign Office,
said: "We are deeply concerned to learn of the execution. This is
another example of the brutality of the North Korean government, and
we have consistently raised concerns about severe and systematic human
rights abuses. The UN is currently running a commission of inquiry and
it is quite right that we do everything we can to investigate North
Korea's appalling human rights record. More broadly, we remain deeply
concerned about the impact of this unpredictable regime on stability
in the region. Our embassy in
Pyongyang is monitoring the situation
closely and we will continue to maintain close contact with our allies
on this." Lord Alton of Liverpool, chair of the
North Korea All-Party
Parliamentary Group, said Jang "represented for many the real hope for
reform in North Korea" and stated that Jang's execution was a "bloody
and vivid and brutal reminder of the inherent and cruel nature of a
regime that has always modelled itself on Stalin's USSR" and its gulag
United States – State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie
Harf told the media on 12 December 2013: "While we cannot
independently verify this development, we have no reason to doubt the
official KCNA report that Jang Song Thaek has been executed. If
confirmed, this is another example of the extreme brutality of the
North Korean regime." The following day, at the State Department's
press briefing, Harf stated that "we would urge the North Koreans not
to take provocative acts, not to do so going forward, because it's not
in the interest of regional stability". Patrick Ventrell, deputy
spokesman for the White House National Security Council, told the
Yonhap News Agency
Yonhap News Agency that, "if confirmed, this is another example of the
extreme brutality of the North Korean regime... We are following
North Korea closely and consulting with our allies and
partners in the region." Secretary of State
John F. Kerry
John F. Kerry stated
in an interview broadcast on ABC's This Week on 15 December that
Jang's fate "tells us a lot about … how ruthless and reckless" and
Kim Jong-un is, and described Kim as "spontaneous, erratic,
still worried about his place in the power structure and maneuvering
to eliminate" potential competitors. Kerry stated that Kim leads a
"ruthless, horrendous dictatorship" and Kerry urged the
denuclearization of North Korea. Senator John McCain, member of
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said of Kim on CNN's State of
the Union: "I think it's very obvious this young man is capable of
some very aberrational behavior, and given the toys that he has, I
think it's very dangerous. You would think that the Chinese would
understand that, as well. They've got to rein this young man in—and
United Nations – Secretary-General of the United Nations
Ban Ki-moon, formerly the South Korean foreign minister, stated on 16
December that he found reports of the execution to be "very dramatic
and surprising" and appealed for calm, stating: "At this time, I would
appeal to all the parties concerned, surrounding the Korean Peninsula,
while they must be vigilantly and carefully watching the development
of situation, not to take any premature actions. I do not hope that
because of that there will be some increase of tensions on the Korean
Peninsula." Ban stated: "The period ahead should be used to build
confidence in the international community and to improve living
conditions for the country's long-suffering people. I stand ready to
offer my good offices." Ban reiterated the United Nations'
longstanding stance against capital punishment "under any
circumstances" and urged
North Korea to comply with Security Council
North Korea has frequently flouted.
North Korea portal
Human rights portal
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Media coverage of North Korea
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North Korean Leadership Watch
Party political offices
Chief of the
Workers' Party of Korea
Workers' Party of Korea Central Administration Department
Kim dynasty of North Korea
Kim Il-sung (1912–1994)
Kim Jong-il (1941–2011)
Kim Jong-un (1984–)
Kim Hyong-jik (Kim Il-sung's father)
Kang Pan-sok (Kim Il-sung's mother)
Kim Jong-suk (Kim Il-sung's first wife, Jong-il's mother)
Kim Yong-ju (Kim Il-sung's brother)
Kim Song-ae (Kim Il-sung's second wife)
Hong Il-chon (Kim Jong-il's first wife, divorced)
Song Hye-rim (Kim Jong-il's first mistress)
Kim Man-il (Kim Jong-il's brother)
Jang Song-thaek (Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law)
Kim Kyong-hui (Kim Jong-il's sister)
Kim Young-sook (Kim Jong-il's wife)
Ko Yong-hui (Kim Jong-il's second mistress, Jong-un's mother)
Kim Pyong-il (Kim Jong-il's half-brother)
Kim Ok (Kim Jong-il's third mistress)
Kim Yo-jong (Kim Jong-un's sister)
Kim Jong-chul (Kim Jong-un's brother)
Kim Sul-song (Kim Jong-un's half-sister)
Kim Jong-nam (Kim Jong-un's half-brother)
Ri Sol-ju (Kim Jong-un's wife)
Kim Ju-ae (Kim Jong-un's daughter)
Kim Han-sol (Kim Jon