North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Morningstar Rumors

Kim Jong Un

Chosun Ilbo adds another story to the “Is he or isn’t he?” scuttlebutt machine around the possible hereditary succession of Kim Jong-un.  This story contradicts a report from JoongAng Daily that stated the mysterious Kim Ok had married a senior KWP official and was no longer working in any capacity for Kim Jong-il.  CI reports that Ms. Kim participated as an adviser to General-Secretary Kim met and lunched with Hyundai boss lady Hyun Jeong-eun in August of this year.  According to a source in Chosun Ilbo, “Kim Ok wields tremendous influence and personally dresses down senior officials and delivers direct orders.”  CI reports that in 2009 “With the tacit approval of Kim Jong-un the leadership of the Workers’ Party is in the process of new officials.”

This last factoid corroborates previous reports, particularly that of Kim

Ri Je-gang

Kwang-jin, who gave a fascinating presentation at Brookings, that found the Morningstar General and Organization and Guidance Senior Deputy Director Ri Je-gang making installing KJU loyalists into KWP positions.  What Choson Ilbo does not report, which previous sources have, is whether these personnel decisions trespassed into Kim Jong-il’s control channels, which is to say appointing officials to the Guard Command.  General-Secretary Kim would be understandably sensitive to such appointments.  He remains at the center of power in Pyongyang and may not look kindly upon a youthful whippersnapper undermining him.

Choson Ilbo notes that “since the middle of the year North Korea seems to have become extremely cautious about pushing ahead with succession” which again corroborates previous reporting.  The only common narrative to emerge in any reports is the succession management role of husband and wife power couple Kim Kyong-hui and Jang Song-thaek.  Whether Kim Ok is still employed in the Personal Secretariat, married off to a senior cadre or remains “de facto first lady” (as CI reports), she is most likely sharing responsibilities with Kim Kyong-hui.

Jang Song-thaek at the far right at a guidance visit to the Huichon Power Station, mid-September 2009 (Photo: KCNA).

If Kim Ok has garnered the kind of influence where she “dresses down senior officials and delivers direct orders” it is highly likely Kim Jong-il would check that kind of authority.  His health problems in 2008 may have created a more tenuous power situation whereby he would not subject Kim Ok to house arrest or purging someone with whom he’s shared pillow talk and bank account number.   But it is within his “keep ’em guessing” m.o. to check the kind of influence unbecoming the Monolithic Ideological System; just ask Jang Song-thaek.  Then again, if Kim Ok grew so influential and overstepped her Edith Wilson function, this may explain the report of her being married off and no longer working in the Personal Secretariat.

Rather than chasing the Morningstar General’s shadows, my money’s still with Mr. Jang and his lady wife.  What does game theory say of the DPRK succession scene these days?

Kim Kyong-hui

Meanwhile, Korea Documentary Film Studios has released the third installment “To Realize the Modeling of the Whole Society on the Juche Idea” of the multi-part epic Kim Jong-il documentary The Sun of Songun Shedding its Rays All Over the World.

An affiliate of 38 North