North Korea: ‘Jang death will not hinder reforms’

A Kim Jong-un impersonator poses with a defaced poster of the North Korean leader. Picture: AP
A Kim Jong-un impersonator poses with a defaced poster of the North Korean leader. Picture: AP
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A SENIOR North Korean official said yesterday that the execution of leader Kim Jong-un’s once-powerful uncle will not lead to changes in economic policies and vowed that the nation would push ahead with an ambitious plan to develop new economic zones.

Jang Song-thaek’s wife, meanwhile, has been appointed to an ad-hoc state committee, the country’s official media reported, an indication that Jang’s execution has not immediately diminished her influence.

The execution on Friday of Jang, considered to be North Korea’s second most powerful man and a key architect of the country’s economic policies, should not be taken as an indication of a change of direction, Yun Yong- sok, a senior official in the state economic development committee, said in an interview in Pyongyang.

Luring foreign investment is critical to garnering badly needed foreign currency and funding for infrastructure projects so the Kim regime can live up to its promise of raising the impoverished nation’s standard of living.

“Even though Jang Song Thaek’s group caused great harm to our economy, there will be no change at all in the economic policy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” Mr Yun said.

Jang’s sudden purge and execution for allegedly trying to overthrow the government has raised questions about how solid the North Korean regime is.

Last month, North Korea announced plans to create in each province special economic zones, which aid the introduction of capitalist methods into the North’s tightly controlled, command economy. The North also recently laid out new laws to facilitate foreign tourism and investment.

The North has shown no willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons programme to get out from under international trade sanctions. That makes investment or financing from major international organisations difficult if not impossible.

It also means the success of the zones hinges on China, North Korea’s only major ally, and Jang was seen as a crucial conduit between Pyongyang and Beijing, along with being a supporter of China-backed reforms.

Jang met top Chinese officials during their visits to Pyongyang, and in 2012 travelled to China as the head of one of the largest North Korean delegations ever to visit the Chinese capital to discuss construction of the special economic zones, which Beijing hopes will ensure North Korea’s stability.

Mr Yun, however, downplayed Jang’s importance in policy-making and said his removal would instead speed progress on the economic front because he was a threat to the unity of the nation. He said Jang’s execution should not scare away Chinese investment.

“By eliminating the Jang Song Thaek group, the unity and solidarity of our party and people with our respected marshal at the centre has become much stronger. Our party has become more determined and the will of our soldiers and people to build a prosperous socialist country has been strengthened,” Mr Yun said. He said local officials have been tasked with drawing up the plans for the zones in their jurisdictions and are likely to formally submit them for approval to his commission within the next few months.

What will happen next in Pyongyang remains unclear, but North Korea watchers will be closely following tomorrow’s second anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death for clues. Of particular interest is whether Jang’s wife, Kim Kyong-hui, the younger sister of Kim Jong-il, will be present in official ceremonies.

Her name appeared in a state media dispatch late Saturday alongside top officials on a funeral committee for fellow senior Workers’ Party official Kim Kuk-thae, who died Friday. Analysts said the dispatch suggested that her political standing hasn’t been immediately affected by her husband’s execution.