Jang Song-thaek wrested the lucrative right of exporting coal to China from the military and gave it to his administrative department. He purged his rivals. Mr. Jang’s campaign for more influence was apparently aimed at pushing for the kind of economic overhaul that China has introduced, Mr. Ra wrote. But he underestimated how unpalatable the idea was to Kim Jong-un, whose totalitarian rule would be undermined by such reform.
In 2013, Kim Jong-un, after hearing complaints about Mr. Jang’s expansion of power, ordered his department to relinquish the management of a fishing farm and a condensed milk factory. But officials loyal Jang, blocked those who arrived to carry out Kim’s orders from entering their premises. It was probably the last straw for Kim, still unsure about himself and extremely sensitive about any challenge to his supposedly monolithic leadership. Meanwhile, Mr. Jang’s enemies in the secret police were eager to go after him.
When announcing his execution, North Korea said Mr. Jang, “human scum worse than a dog,” had betrayed the Kim family by plotting to overthrow the younger Mr. Kim, using economic collapse as a pretext, and to rule the country himself as premier and “reformer.”
Jang Song-thaek’s name was then expurgated from all official records in North Korea.
[New York Times]