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

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    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.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.