North Korea is going the full Winston Smith on former #2 and now executed traitor Jang Song Thaek, erasing any trace of the man from state media. The execution and disappearance of their biggest ally within the North Korean regime leaves the people of China scratching their heads about their relationship with the rogue state.
According to a North Korea analyst speaking with the AFP this week, something in the neighborhood of 55,000 articles mentioning Jang have disappeared, as well as another 65,000 copies of articles in multiple languages on the website of North Korea’s main news agency, the Korean Central News Agency of DPRK. The KCNA had previously published the announcement of his execution, in which he was called “depraved” and “worse than a dog” and accused him of “clapping half-heartedly” during state events.
The analyst, Frank Feinstein, asserts that this is a concerted effort to erase Jang from the history of the nation, something straight out of 1984. Jang had also been edited out of a documentary on the greatness of North Korea shortly before the announcement of his execution. Rumors abound as to the real reason behind the execution–from attributing the idea to his wife to the constant rumors of his sexual depravity and drug use–but the state has not given concrete, unemotional reasons behind the killing, aside from one claim that he sold coal to foreigners “at random.”
Such an efficient deletion of a man who had risen to the rank of #2 in the tightly-controlled regime certainly aroused suspicions across the region. This includes perennially concerned South Korea and Japan, as well as the closest thing DPRK has to an ally, China. Many expect that those loyal to Jang have either already been executed or are living on borrowed time. But Jang, according to the Wall Street Journal, was “central to China’s long-term strategy of building up infrastructure along the North Korean border.”
Perceived as one of the more easily accessible and pro-business figures in the regime–perhaps the same traits that became “careerism” and “treason” in North Korean state media–China had conducted much of its business dealings through him. Among the charges involving abuse of business interests, the WSJ highlights those surrounding the business region of Rason, which borders China. Some in China deem the language regarding use of the region as indirectly aggressive towards the state.
The Canadian outlet CBC adds that the language is meant to inspire a domestic audience to perceive Kim as fearless enough to rebuke its only ally. How China will choose to react to the country remains to be seen and has many on notice, given that China appears to be the only rational actor in the context of North Korea and has increased its belligerence towards Japan, South Korea, and the United States in recent months.
Meanwhile, Kim Jong-Un appears to be running his media censors as quickly as possible in the hope of returning North Korea to business as usual, and business as usual in North Korea means more Dennis Rodman. Few expect Kim to release any new statements clarifying the country’s relationship with China or appointing a replacement (Dennis Rodman?) any time soon, leaving China–and, by association, the United States–to look on in dread and pray for something resembling stability.