North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Another Auspicious February Birthday

Jang Song-thaek (1st from right) in South Hamgyong Province in late January 2010 (Photo: KCNA).

Kim Jong-il will blow out his birthday candles on 16 February, a year closer to 70.  There are also conflicting reports as to whether Kim Jong-un’s birthday was celebrated on 8 January.  We are certain of one North Korean elite’s birthday; this week Jang Song-thaek turned 64.  Some sources (KINU, Yonhap) have Mr. Jang born on 6 February, and other sources say he was born on 2 February.  Happy birthday, Mr. Jang!

Readers of this blog, and Pyongyang watchers in general, are accustomed to Jang Song-thaek’s presence at Kim Jong-il’s guidance and inspection tours.  In certain East Asian and Western press reports, Mr. Jang is often identified as leading the process grooming Kim Jong-un to be hereditary successor.  Otherwise, Jang Song-thaek is Kim Jong-il’s principal enforcer in the Korean Workers’ Party, and manager of the North Korean internal security apparatus.  He is one of General Secretary Kim’s key supporters, and has worked with him since the early 1970’s.  For 37 years, Mr. Jang has been married to General Secretary Kim’s only sibling, Kim Kyong-hui.

Mr. Jang is the most critical player in the post-KJI DPRK.  He is the only personality in the senior echelon with the patronage network and clout to implement whatever succession plans General-Secretary Kim has developed.  Alternatively,  Mr. Jang is also the only senior North Korean who has the gravitas and background to pursue a policy of de-Kimification once General-Secretary Kim moves on from the scene.

A night or two ago, Mr. Jang  and his wife, joined Kim Jong-il, the Russian Ambassador to the DPRK and several of General-Secretary Kim’s cohorts at a performance of the opera Evgeni Onegin.  One thing Mr. Jang may want to celebrate: despite possible employee attrition in the Central Party and some popular unrest in the provinces, the North Korean leadership is not currently vulnerable and remains solidly intact.

Kim Jong-il applauds during a performance of Evegeni Onegin. His sister, Kim Kyong-hui, is seond from right (Photo: KCNA via DPRK.Blog)

Kim Jong-il comments on the opera performance. Jang Song-thaek is partially obscured 2nd from left (Photo: KCTV/


This article was written on 06 Feb 2010, and is filled under Jang Song-thaek, Kim Family, Kim Jong-il.

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