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Purge of Jang Song-Taek and its Impact on China’s Policy Toward North Korea
Published August 18, 2014
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On December 12 Jang Song-taek, largely considered the second most powerful man in North Korea and a well-known “China hand,” was executed for treason and corruption, leaving the Chinese government without its most trusted interlocutor and Chinese companies without their most important business contact. Jang, who was referred to by the KCNA as the “despicable human scum Jang, who was worse than a dog,” was publicly purged, arrested, and executed in just four days for “[perpetrating] thrice-cursed acts of treachery in betrayal of such profound trust and warmest paternal love shown by the party and the leader for him.”1 These salacious, headline-making accusations were likely less shocking to Jang’s Chinese counterparts than the fact that he was purged and executed so suddenly, threatening their economic plans for North Korea and eliminating their bridge into their reclusive neighbor. Jang’s brutal purge presented Beijing with pressing questions and no real answers—does China understand Kim Jong-un; can China trust him; and do China’s interests still dictate support for Pyongyang?

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