News / Asia

North Korean Power Couple Emerge as Key to Succession Plans

A South Korean newspaper shows photos of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, center, his late father Kim Il Sung, left, and a photo South Korean media says of Kim's youngest son Kim Jong Un, At right bottom is Kim Jong-il's sister Kim Kyong Hui and top is he
A South Korean newspaper shows photos of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, center, his late father Kim Il Sung, left, and a photo South Korean media says of Kim's youngest son Kim Jong Un, At right bottom is Kim Jong-il's sister Kim Kyong Hui and top is he

The Korean Workers' Party conference in Pyongyang this week has elevated leader Kim Jong Il's son to a senior position in the ruling Communist party, which is considered a step closer to succeeding his father.  

Officials keep the succession process intentionally murky, making it nearly impossible for outsiders to discern exactly what is going on. But other announcements at the meeting have led observers to believe that the real force behind the country's next leader may actually be Kim Jong Il's sister and brother-in-law.

Roots of a Family Dynasty


Kim Kyong Hui and Jang Song Taek are as close to reclusive leader Kim Jong Il as one can get.  For Kim Kyong Hui, Kim Jong Il's sister, experts say the bond was sealed at a young age, when their mother died. They are the only children of the first wife of North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung.

Trust comes from family ties in North Korea, says Choi Jin-wook, a senior fellow at Seoul's government-run Korean Institute for National Unification.

"Kim Kyong Hui was very young, maybe four years old when her mother was dead, and Kim Kyong Hui and Kim Jong Il were only two siblings and they have been very close since that time," he says. "Kim Jong Il really loved her and they are very, very close because they grew up very lonely, so they are very close."

Sixty-four year-old Kim Kyong Hui is rarely heard from, but this week, she was elevated to the rank of army general and handed full membership of the Workers' Party Political Bureau. Her husband, Jang Song Taek, is considered Kim Jong Il's number two. He is vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission and, now, an alternate member to the Political Bureau.

Andrei Lankov, a specialist on North Korea, says it appears Kim Jong Il has designated the couple to help his young, inexperienced son, Kim Jong Un, prepare for his new leadership role.

"It seems likely that his uncle and aunt will become, in case of Kim Jong Il's sudden death, will become sort of prince-regent and princess-regent, says Lankov. "That is people who will be running the country and will be making actual decisions."

The Changing Fortunes of Jang Song Taek

Some North Korea analysts say Kim Jong Il's brother-in-law was not always so trusted. In 2004, he mysteriously disappeared from public for a year-and-a-half. Ryoo Kihl-jae, a scholar with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, says Jang Song Taek fell victim to political infighting - temporarily.

"He was expelled to the low, miserable, humble position. He was re-emerged to a high-ranking position and when Kim Jong Il had a stroke, he rose higher," says Ryoo.

In his return to power, Jang Song Taek reportedly became a trusted confidant and drinking buddy to Kim Jong Il.

North Korea's leadership keeps its personal and political affairs private, so analysts rely on defectors' stories and practiced guesswork to interpret any changes. Choi Jin-wook believes Jang Song Taek was purged because he had personal connections with his followers, breaking an unspoken rule in North Korean politics.

"That cannot be tolerated in North Korea's political system," Choi says. "Kim Jong Il is supposed to be the only leader which controls the country. But Jang Song Taek played a more active role. And Jang Song Taek was followed by many people in the party and in the government and in even the military, so he was purged."

Korea analyst Ryoo says it was the charisma that gained Jang Song Taek followers in government that also won his wife's hand.

"They met as college students, and at that time, [he] was very popular among the girls. He can sing a song very well and he is humorous and he is rather handsome," says Ryoo.

According to some observers, it was a forbidden love. The story goes that Kim Kyong Hui's father, Kim Il Sung, forbade his daughter from seeing Jang Song Taek and banished him from the capital. But observers say Kim Kyong Hui, reportedly stubborn and hot-tempered, pursued her boyfriend and eventually married him.

Tensions in Leadership Transition


But Lankov scoffs at such stories as mere fantasy. He prefers to stay away from analyzing their marriage and looks instead at the relationship between young dynastic leaders and their regents. He says historically, these are tense partnerships and North Korea likely will be no exception. Still, he says, North Korean leaders understand that unity is key to the country's survival.

"They have to hang together; otherwise they will be hanged separately."

The current Workers' Party conference is the first public test of the leadership's unity. But analysts say the real test will not be the tensions within the family, but between North Korea's ruling party and the military.

You May Like

Video On The Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime bombardment, VOA correspondent finds More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid