North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Mr. Jang and Ms. Kim Go Global

North Korea’s recent interactions with Russia and China did not interrupt the rising profile of Jang Song-thaek and Kim Kyong-hui.  The performance of Evgeni Onegin with Russia’s Ambassador to the DPRK was the first event where Jang and Kim were listed accompanying Kim Jong-il and a foreign envoy.  A photograph of Kim Kyong-hui watching the performance was published on Naenara, North Korea’s external propaganda website.  A photo of Ms. Kim on her brother’s inspection of the Pyongyang Textile Mill in the summer of 2009 appeared on the same site, but the photographs and English report are no longer available.

Jang Song-thaek continued to burnish his foreign relations credentials when he joined the dinner party Kim Jong-il hosted during Wang Jiarui’s visit to Hamhung.  Mr. Jang also found the time to authorize a rare joint statement by the Ministry of Public Security and State Security Department, putting his institutional imprimatur on Monday’s inter-Korea meeting in Kaesong.

This is not the first time Kim Kyong-hui and Jang Song-thaek were involved in North Korea’s external relations.  They studied abroad together at Moscow State University in the late 1960’s.  She spent the 1970’s as the senior deputy director of the KWP International Department.  He was present during Kim Jong-il’s meeting and dinner party with Wen Jiabao in October 2009, and has traveled to China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Italy.

But Kim Kyong-hui’s presence in an official capacity at an event with a foreign dignitary is rather unprecedented, as well as the regime’s willingness to publicize it.  Jang Song-thaek made his presence known whether he was lurking in the shadows at the opera, dining with the Chinese or having his two largest security agencies (who seldom agree on anything)  kick up the inter-Korea dust.  Ms. Kim’s presence on the road with her brother in 2009 and 2010 was intriguing enough for Pyongyang watchers.  Taken with Jang Song-thaek taking a more high profile in foreign relations does this mean Kim Jong-il has started to experiment with collective management?

Choson Ilbo posits  a couple of theories about the presence of Jang Song-thaek and Kim Kyong-hui.

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