Kim Kyong Hui, the godmother of North Korea’s dynasty

9 10 2010

BY KIYOHITO KOKITA ASAHI SHIMBUN WEEKLY AERA (2010/10/09) In the large group photograph taken Sept. 30 in front of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang, international attention was focused on Kim Jong Un, the youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and heir apparent. But another individual in that photograph, sitting five places to the right of Jong Il, may warrant even more attention than Jong Un. The woman is Kim Kyong Hui, 64, Jong Il’s younger sister and the “godmother of the royal family.”

She has been described as cantankerous, obstinate and a drunk. She might also become the true power figure of the impoverished nuclear-power wannabe. The Sept. 28 meeting of representatives of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea served as the debut on the political stage for Jong Un, who was sitting in the front row two places to the left of his father in the photograph run by the party organ Rodong Sinmun. Kyong Hui also marked her debut on the political stage at the meeting. After being named general, she was appointed to the party Politburo.

In late August, Yuriko Koike, chairwoman of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party’s General Council, predicted the emergence of Kyong Hui. “In that nation, the most important factor is blood relations,” Koike said recently. “I do not have a very specific image of Jong Un. I believe she is the only family member who has gained the trust of Kim Jong Il.”

Ha Tae-keung, who heads Open Radio for North Korea based in Seoul, said: “(Kim Jong Il) is probably very worried about the fate of his dynasty should anything happen to him under the present circumstances. He probably wanted to give his younger sister greater authority now, so that when the time comes, she can serve in the roles of ‘executor of the will’ and ‘manager of the dynasty.'”

There is likely no other candidate who could fulfill those roles better than Kyong Hui, who has maintained strong ties with Jong Il. When United Nations troops pushed back the North Korean military during the Korean War, Kyong Hui fled to China with her older brother. After returning to Pyongyang with Jong Il, she apparently was “treated very coldly” by her stepmother, who had married Kim Il Sung, the North Korean founder, according to sources. North Korean insiders say Kyong Hui has a violent temperament and never changes her mind once she has made a decision.

She met her husband, Jang Song Thaek, who came from an ordinary family outside of Pyongyang, when they were students at Kim Il Sung University. Kim Il Sung was opposed to their marriage because he wanted his daughter to marry an outstanding military officer. He pulled strings to have Jang transferred to a university in Wonsan. But Kyong Hui drove herself from Pyongyang for weekend trysts with Jang in Wonsan. Kim Il Sung finally gave in to his stubborn daughter and approved the marriage.

Kyong Hui is a regular member of the alcohol drinking parties hosted by Jong Il and attended by high-ranking party officials. According to sources, she cannot stop drinking once she starts. She has been known to drunkenly bellow: “Hey, Jang Song Thaek, drink up!” But she is said to be the only person who can give advice to Jong Il. And he apparently can do little to control his younger sister. Hwang Jang Yop, a former party secretary who defected to South Korea in 1997, wrote in a book that Kyong Hui once told him, “Although he is surrounded by many flatterers, my older brother is actually very lonely.”

After Jang married Kyong Hui in 1972, he proceeded along an elite promotion course as a close associate of Jong Il. However, he was demoted in around 2004 after being criticized for forming his own faction. Kyong Hui wept to her older brother, explaining the difficult position of her husband. Sources said Kyong Hui’s pleas may have been behind Jang’s resurrection in 2006. Although she was appointed director of the party’s light industry department in the 1980s, she rarely made public appearances. At the same time, she became well known for being a “shadow power broker.” Japanese companies seeking to move into North Korea sought out personal connections that would eventually lead to her.

From 2003, Kyong Hui completely disappeared from the public stage, but made a sudden re-emergence in June 2009, after Jong Il was apparently felled by a stroke. She began accompanying her older brother on visits to outlying regions of North Korea. Photos taken of the two siblings were played up big by the North Korean media. This year, she has been by far the most frequent traveler with Jong Il among any of his close associates. In second place is her husband, Jang. Jang heads the party’s Administration Department, which gives him control over public security and the “thought police.” In June, he was promoted to vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, the highest decision-making organ in North Korea.

Speculation before the Sept. 28 meeting was that Jang would be named to the party Politburo. However, the only appointments he received were as an alternate member of the Politburo and member of the Central Military Commission. There is a wide gap between a Politburo member and an alternate member. Alternate members can offer their opinions during meetings–but they cannot vote on important decisions. In an unusual move, North Korean authorities released the backgrounds of Politburo Presidium members, Politburo members as well as alternate members. The only two individuals whose backgrounds were not mentioned were Jong Il, a Politburo Presidium member, and Kyong Hui, a Politburo member.

Jang’s background was released along with other top party executives. Analysts said that difference was meant to show that Jang is not a major member of the dynasty, but only a man who has married into the family. The situation in North Korea could become very fluid if Jong Il dies in a few years. Sources said Kyong Hui herself has heart problems, is an alcoholic and has also suffered from depression.

Koike said, “There is the possibility that Kyong Hui herself would grab power.” The Kim dynasty is increasingly showing signs of direct control by the family even as it fails to adequately feed its own people. Park Too Jin, who heads the Korea International Institute in Tokyo, described the recent events in North Korea as “the final fruitless struggle to maintain the power structure.” The fate of that structure and the future of the Kim family are closely intertwined…

Leonid Petrov’s commentary: One important detail remained ommited in this biographical report. In 2006, Kim Kyong-hee and Jang Song-taek’s daughter, who had studied in Paris and apparently refused to return to North Korea, suicided or was murdered. This familty drama might have softened Kim Jong-il’s anger toward his sister and promted to pardon her husband the same year. 

Also, the growing involvement in domestic politics and her strong family credentials might backfire on Mrs. Jang (Kim Kyong-hee) soon after the death of Kim Jong-il, as it happened with Jiang Qing in China immediately after the death of Mao Zedong.   

Kim Jong-un’s Rise Marks the Beginning of Hereditary Transfer of Power

1 10 2010

SEOUL (Yonhap, 30 Sep.) — As widely anticipated, North Korea officially started a hereditary power succession this week when its leader Kim Jong-il named his youngest son a military general and its ruling party gave him key political posts during the biggest party convention in decades.

In the party conference held on Sept. 28, North Korea appointed its leader’s youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in reports monitored in Seoul.

The North Korean leader named his third son, believed to be 28 years old, as a four-star general a day before the party conference, confirming speculation that the heir apparent has now started the process of succeeding his ailing father. It was the first time the son’s name has been mentioned by Pyongyang’s state media.

Analysts said Kim Jong-un’s rise marked Pyongyang’s first step to officially put the prince in line to take over the family dynasty in what would be the second-ever hereditary transfer of power in communism. […] Little is known about Kim Jong-un, who was also named at the conference as a member of the party’s central committee, which the North has repeatedly stressed this year must be “protected with life.”

“As a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, Kim Jong-un will strengthen his grip on the military” that operates 1.2 million troops and forms the basis of the Kim dynasty’s power, said Yang Moo-jin, an expert at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. But Kim Jong-un was not included among the newly elected standing members of the Political Bureau of the party, suggesting he had some work ahead of him to complete the succession plan.

In a reshuffle apparently aimed at assisting the power transfer, Kim Kyong-hui, the 64-year-old sister of Kim Jong-il, also became a member of the WPK Central Committee, the KCNA said, adding that her power-holding husband, Jang Song-thaek, became a member of the Central Military Commission. Jang is already a vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, whose decisions have overridden most of those of any other organ in the country since Kim Jong-il seized power.

Jang is also the Workers’ Party’s director of administration with responsibility for the police, judiciary and other areas of internal security – the second most powerful post in the ruling party. Jang did not receive a general’s post because he already holds the powerful title of vice chairman of the National Defense Commission.

Kim Jong-il made his sister, who oversees the North’s light industries, a four-star general on Sept. 27 along with his third son, whose two older brothers have apparently fallen out of favor over the years. The North Korean leader’s appointment of his sister to such a post backed speculation over those who will serve as the young Jong-un’s guardians until he builds up enough experience and power.

The promotion of Jong-un’s aunt as general also demonstrates Kim Jong-il’s wish to protect his son within the military and the party. The aunt and her husband, Jang Song-thaek, are known to be supportive of Jong-un as heir to the throne, and Kim seems to be relying more on family as his health wanes.

Notable among the profiles released by the official KCNA was that of Ri Yong-ho, chief of the general staff of the North’s Korean People’s Army. Ri, who was promoted to the rank of vice marshal, rose as a standing member of the Political Bureau along with three others, including Jo Myong-rok, a vice marshal who visited the United States as a special envoy in 2000.

Little is known about the man other than his service as commander of the capital defense forces before his promotion last year to his current post, which is equivalent to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in South Korea. Ri was born in the same year as the 68-year-old leader Kim Jong-il, according to the KCNA. The oldest among the four new members are Kim Yong-nam and Jo Myong-rok, both 82, thus making Ri one of the two youngest along with Kim Jong-il on the panel, according to the release.

“The Conference marked a significant occasion that demonstrated the revolutionary faith and will of all the party members, servicepersons and people,” the KCNA said, calling on them to continue to uphold the military-first policy chartered by Kim…

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Propaganda Song for Heir Apparent Played in North Korea

1 11 2009

The song of KJU_2009.4.25SEOUL (Yonhap, 2009/10/29)

Although many North Koreans know about the pending father-to-son power transfer in their country’s ruling family, talking about the dynastic power succession in public is forbidden in the socialist country. Nevertheless, signs of the power transfer from the current leader, Kim Jong-il, to his youngest son, Jong-un, are evident in the reclusive state these days.

North Korea appears to have established a propaganda song praising the heir apparent as a regular theme during public events, with the latest performance aired on state television. Analysts say the move proves Kim Jong-il’s faith in his third son as the next leader of the state.

According to intelligence sources, the North’s state-run Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station reported on Oct. 9 that Kim Jong-il attended a show at North Hwanghae Provincial Art Theater, south of Pyongyang, and a choir performed the song called “Footsteps” as part of commemoration of the newly built art center. It was the fifth time for the leader to attend an official event where the song was played, according to intelligence officials.

In the Oct. 9 television broadcast, belatedly discovered in South Korea, still photos from the concert show the title of the song displayed in green on an electronic board above the stage, while dozens of men and women sing in ensemble.

“Footsteps,” reportedly written by top composer Ri Jong-o, has been widely interpreted by North Korea watchers here as extolling the valiance of Jong-un. Its title began to appear in North Korean media in February, when the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that soldiers in an army unit sang the song during Kim Jong-il’s inspection visit there. The song surfaced again during an April 26 ceremony marking the founding of the North’s Korean People’s Army.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry would not say whether it was a sign that a power transfer is underway. “We have intelligence indicating the song is for Kim Jong-un, but it’s a matter of interpretation if this means a succession process being consolidated,” ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said.

The ministry also confirmed Oct. 26 that a caption flashed the word “Footsteps” as it was being performed. The song’s lyrics begin: “Tramp tramp tramp / the footsteps of our General Kim / spreading the spirit of February / tramp tramp tramping onwards.” General Kim is believed to be a reference to Kim Jong-un, and February the month of the elder Kim’s birth.

The television presented footage of Kim and his entourage clapping their hands, but it was not clear from the visual material whether they did so to the heir’s song. Kim Jong-il’s entourage during the theater visit included his sister, Kim Kyong-hui, and her husband, Jang Song-thaek, both of whom are believed to be deeply involved in grooming the heir apparent in Workers’ Party directorial posts. Other top party officials, such as Kim Ki-nam and Pak Nam-gi, were among the audience, along with residents of the province.

North Korea watchers likened the move to former leader Kim Il-sung’s praise of his son, Kim Jong-il, in public before his succession. Kim Jong-il, now 67, reportedly suffered a stroke in August last year….

… Cheong Seong-chang, an expert with the non-governmental Sejong Institute south of Seoul, said the North is now directing the succession process in a more subtle way, in contrast to its earlier nuclear and missile tests that were believed to have been aimed at supporting the power transition.

“In the early process of building the succession system, North Korea needed tension with the outside world to tighten internal unity and pursued a military-oriented ultra hard-line foreign policy that completely ignored the positions of other countries,” Cheong said. “The Kim Jong-un succession system has now entered a stable orbit.”

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