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

Tunnel Bombs Highlight Savagery of Aleppo Fight

Rebels have used tunneling tactic near government buildings, command posts or supply routes to set off explosives; they detonated their largest bomb this week under Syria's intelligence headquarters More

Sierra Leone Launches New Initiative to Stop Ebola Spread

Government hopes Infection and Prevention Control Units, IPC, will help protect patients and healthcare workers More

UN Official: Fight Against Terrorism Must Not Violate Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says efforts by states to combat terrorism are resulting in large scale rights violations against the very citizens they claim to defend 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.
Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boyi
X
Jeff Seldin
March 05, 2015 2:36 AM
A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960s Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More