Jang Song-thaek secretly enlisted the help of China in 2012 to overthrow Kim and replace him with his half-brother Kim Jong-nam, according to Japanese newspaper Nikkei Asian Review.
Sources told the newspaper that the then-Chinese president Hu Jintao did not immediately give an answer to whether Beijing would help to oust the leader.
The alleged coup was discovered by Zhou Yongkang, a former member of China’s Politburo Standing Committee who had close ties to North Korea, before it could be acted on.
After hearing of the plot, Kim reportedly “flew into a rage” and ordered the arrest and execution of his uncle in December 2013.
Following Jang’s arrest, a statement from North Korean state media described him as “human scum, who was worse than a dog”, claiming that he “perpetrated thrice-cursed acts of treachery in betrayal of such profound trust and warmest paternal love shown by the party and the leader”.
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Bradley Martin, author of ‘Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty’, said that Jang was “a North Korean who was doing things differently, appreciated the advances that were clear in the way China had modernised its economy and probably wanted the same for North Korea”.
Kim Jong-nam was assassinated in Kuala Lumpur airport in February with VX gas, in an execution that is speculated to have been carried out by the North Korean regime.