Powerful aunt of Kim Jong-un disappears from official footage

The aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has mysteriously disappeared from a re-run of a propaganda film, leading to speculation that she has been purged – or even executed.

Kim Kyong Hui

Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that while the original screening featuring Ms Kim (as shown circled above), a re-run shown on Tuesday depicts a scene in which only Kim Jong-un, his wife, and male military officials are visible.

Kim Kyong-hui, 67, is the widow of Jang Song-taek who was recently executed. It was believed she would always remain ‘safe’ under her nephew’s brutal regime, leading analysts to say that her disappearance from the documentary is ominous. Ms Kim’s safety from purging or execution had always been assumed because she is the daughter of North Korean founder Kim Il-sun and the sister of the late leader, Kim Jong-il. Despite all this, Ms Kim is still associated with a husband who was publicly denounced as a traitor and executed in December.

Until January this year, Ms Kim was frequently seen at the side of her nephew and his wife at public events. In the footage in question, which aired in January, she was seen walking with the leader and his wife towards the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in the capital, Pyongyang, to pay tribute to the embalmed bodies of former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

The apparent ‘disappearance’ of Kim Kyong-hui has led to speculation that her place in high positions in the Workers’ Party has been taken by Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Yo-jong.

Kim aunt appears safe despite her husband’s execution

The aunt of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been named to an ad-hoc state committee, the country’s official media reported, an indication that the execution of her husband and the country’s No. 2 has not immediately diminished her influence.

North-Korea-Kim-Kyong-huiThe fate of Kim Kyong Hui – a younger sister of late leader Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s father – was questioned after North Korea announced Friday that her husband, Jang Song Thaek, was executed for trying to overthrow the government.

Considered extremely close to her brother Kim Jong Il, Kim Kyong Hui has risen through the ranks in recent years, helping to groom Kim Jong Un as the country’s leader. The 67-year-old holds a slew of top posts, including ruling Workers’ Party secretary and four-star army general.

Some analysts said she may be spared her husband’s fate because she is directly related to the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, grandfather of Kim Jong Un.

If her health condition allows it, Kim Kyong Hui is expected to join other top officials Tuesday and attend ceremonies marking the second anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death, Hong said. Looking pale and gaunt lately in official appearances, Kim Kyong Hui’s public activities have been sharply reduced in recent months amid media reports that she suffers liver, heart and other ailments.

[AP]

The Dastardly North Korean Dynasty Continues

In addition to the tight Kim family circle, the North Korean regime is, generally speaking, composed of three elements: the security apparatus, the People’s Army, and the party. All three parts have always fed into the one man—a Kim—in the center. But Kim Jong-un has yet to gain control by placing his supporters in positions of power. More important, he has not had time to learn how to balance and rule an inherently unstable structure. The result is that he is now guided by his aunt, Kim Kyong-Hui, and her husband, Jang Song-Thaek.

He reports that, last year, powerbrokers did exactly what Kim Jong-un told them to do, but what Kim told them to do “was exactly what they told him he should tell them to do.” In short, Kim was in charge in name only. Kim Jong-nam, the ruler’s eldest brother, is on-record saying that “the existing ruling elite” will keep Jong-un “as a symbolic figure.” To attain real power, Kim Jong-un will have to do what his father did: rely on the nation’s strongest institution, the military.

The never-ending intrigue and struggle inside the army is a major factor in making the North so volatile, and troubles in the military undercut the prevailing view among Korea-watchers that Kim Jong-un has consolidated power faster than anticipated.

Bechtol’s main contribution—and it is a critical one—is drawing the line from Pyongyang’s ugly succession politics to its belligerent external behavior. Deadly incidents were executed to gain support among Kim Jong-un’s young, hardline “guardian cadres.” Attacks will probably continue, he argues, because provocations along the Northern Limit Line are not only part of the North’s asymmetric tactics to intimidate Seoul, but they help consolidate the succession, which is clearly Kim’s top priority.

Kim cannot act peacefully because to do so would undermine the beliefs, developed by his grandfather and father, that hold the ruling group together. This explains why North Korea has remained belligerent no matter who resides in the White House. Kim Jong-un is bound by the conventions established by his predecessors, which means that he cannot easily divert North Korea from its unsustainable path. In his final years, Kim Jong-il pursued “defiant” policies, especially in his development of nuclear warheads and proliferation of weapons, and the North will continue this aggressive behavior.

[From a book review by Gordon G. Chang, author of Nuclear Showdown] 

Jang Song-taek and Kim Kyong Hui, behind-the-scenes powers in North Korea

At the time of Kim Jong Il’s apparent stroke in August 2008, his brother-in-law, Jang Song-taek (who is married to Kim’s sister, Kim Kyong-hui) was rumored to be the key backer of the older brother (Kim Jong-nam) of North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-un.

However in early 2009, Jang shifted his support to Kim Jong-un in light of Kim Jong Il’s “special affection” for his third son and successor, and out of consideration for his own future political power. Worried about being purged as he was in 2004 for becoming too powerful within the regime, Jang reportedly reached a deal with Kim Jong Il and thus agreed to throw his support behind Kim Jong-un. In return, Kim Jong Il allowed Jang to engineer the succession by placing his allies in key posts throughout the regime.

Kim Kyong Hui, the aunt of North Korea’s present leader Kim Jong-un, has been known as the “godmother of the royal family.” Kyong Hui is herself a four-star general – the first woman in North Korea to hold that rank –  and 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.

Kim Kyong Hui, married to the second-most powerful man in North Korea Jang Song-taek, has been described as cantankerous, obstinate and a drunk. North Korean insiders say Kyong Hui has a violent temperament and never changes her mind once she has made a decision. She was 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 at her husband: “Hey, Jang Song Taek, drink up!”

She met her husband, Jang Song Taek, who came from an ordinary family outside of Pyongyang, when they were students at Kim Il Sung University.