Jang Song Thaek had been seen as a kind of regent to Kim Jong Un, the young successor to the Kim family dynasty, and was thought to be number two in the regime. But Jang owed his position to his wife, Kim Kyong Hui, the only sister of Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s deceased father. Jang’s tact, as well as his usefulness as an interlocutor with China, enabled him to keep his position, despite his long-term separation from his wife.
But in North Korea, blood is paramount: everything, including ideology and the national interest, is subservient to the maintenance of the Kim dynasty. I have long believed that the true holder of power since Kim Jong Il’s death has been his sister, Kim Kyong Hui, and no one else. Her blood tie to the Kim dynasty is the reason why, even after her husband was purged and executed (and the rest of his family rounded up), she maintained her political position.
It has even been suggested that she made the decision to purge her husband. Though it cannot be known whether she also proposed killing him, it is not surprising that she believed that, with her own health failing, she could not leave the family dynasty to her husband’s care.
On Dec. 17, the first major ceremony following the purge and execution of Jang Song Thaek, Choe Ryong Hae, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Korean Workers’ Party, was conspicuously present on stage at the commemoration of the second anniversary of “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il’s death.
With Jang purged, responsibility for economic failure in North Korea has been shifted to Choe. All officials and people related to him now live under the shadow of the executioner, for he is certain to bear the blame when the dynasty needs a scapegoat for its mounting problems.
The day is fast approaching when Kim Jong Un and his clan will have to take responsibility for the country’s dire condition, and it may come soon after Kim Kyong Hui dies. If so, the Kim dynasty’s last chapter may have begun with the current spasm of executions, though the ending — for the Korean Peninsula and East Asia alike — remains very much in doubt.
[Excerpts of a Japan Times opinion piece by Yuriko Koike, a former defense minister and national security adviser]