North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has removed his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, from all positions of influence, according to South Korea’s top spy agency, the National Intelligence Service.
Reports are that Jang, who married the Supreme Leader of North Korea’s aunt, has not been seen since two of his aides were publicly executed in North Korea. Jang’s deputies in the Workers’ Party of Korea were killed on charges of “corruption and anti-party activities,” the New York Times reports. North Korean media outlets have not offered any coverage of Jang’s whereabouts, his condition, or the executions.
Jang had been active in the North Korean government from the time of Kim Jong-il, whose sister, Kim Kyong-hui, he married in 1977. He and his wife had played a key role in mentoring Kim Jong-un following Kim Jong-il’s stroke in 2008, fast-tracking his nephew as successor and helping him to consolidate power.
Jang held the title of Vice Chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea in addition to being the incumbent Chairman of the State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission, and Chief of the Central Administrative Department of North Korea’s Workers’ Party prior to his ouster.
It is unknown whether Jang has been simply stripped of power or if he is currently incarcerated in North Korea. Prior to his nephew’s ascension, Jang Song-thaek was considered a possible successor to North Korea’s rule under Kim Jong-il, and it has long since been speculated that Jang could be viewed as a rival for power.
“If this is in fact true, the implications are pretty profound,” said John Park, a Northeast Asia analyst at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, told CNN.
Park speculated that this could be part of further power consolidation by North Korea’s current Supreme Leader, a concern for China, North Korea’s closest ally, who considered Jang “a force of stability.”
TIME‘s Ishaan Tharoor reported that Kim Il-sung, patriarch and master of the North Korean state upon its inception, disapproved of Jang’s marriage into the family.
What do you think of the current power situation in North Korea? As North Korea’s closest ally, should the Chinese government be concerned with Jang’s ouster?