North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

A Cadre Looks at 70

Synchronized swimmers spell out the month and date of Kim Cho’ng-il’s birthday as part of their annual performance at the Changgwang Health Complex in central Pyongyang (Photo: KCNA-Yonhap)

Wednesday [16 February] marked Kim Cho’ng-il’s birthday.  In the Party History Institute’s official chronicle, Kim Cho’ng-il was born February 1942 in a wooden house near Mt. Paektu.  Unofficial accounts say that KCI was born in a Russian military base in Siberia in February 1941.  The DPRK media reported birthday messages sent by, among others, Iran, Syria and Cuba.  KCI celebrated by attending a performance of the Merited State Choir with other members of the central leadership.  KCNA reports:

He warmly acknowledged the enthusiastic cheers of the audience and heartily congratulated them who are devoting themselves to the defence of the country and the prosperity of the socialist country, upholding the songun revolutionary leadership of the party.

The chorus’s colorful performance included “Glory to Our Great Party,” “Snow-covered Birthplace,” Spring Rays of Love” and “Push Back the Frontiers of Latest Science and Technology.”

Through the performance pervaded with militant spirit, the chorus truthfully represented the undying leadership feats of Kim Jong Il and the iron faith and will of the army and the people to accomplish the revolutionary cause of Juche, following him single-mindedly.

At the end of the performance he waved back to the enthusiastically cheering performers and audience and congratulated the artistes on their successful performance.

He expressed great satisfaction over the splendid performance pervaded with the faith and will of the DPRK and the revolutionary soldier spirit given by the artistes of the State Merited Chorus.  He highly appreciated their success in the presentation and extended thanks to them.

Kim Cho’ng-il and sister Kim Kyo’ng-hu’i in 1951.

Photo provided by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Feb. 16, 2011 shows a meeting celebrating the 69th birthday of Kim Jong Il, the top leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), in Pyongyang, capital of DPRK. (Xinhua/KCNA)

On 15 February [Tuesday], Chang So’ng-t’aek and other members of the central leadership sat on a rostrum at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium for a report meeting commemorating KCI’s birthday.  Up and coming DPRK elite, Mun Kyo’ng-t’ok presided over the meeting at which SPA Presidium President Kim Yo’ng-nam read a report, which included invoking “deterrents” (including nuclear deterrents):

He said that the birth of Kim Jong Il in Mt. Paektu, sacred mountain of the revolution, was the greatest fortune of the Korean nation that promised the rosy future of the revolutionary cause of juche. It was also a world historic event that opened the bright future of the human cause of independence, he added.

Thanks to this auspicious birthday of Kim Jong Il, great man born of Heaven, the Korean people could demonstrate the dignity and honor of Kim Il Sung’s nation which steers the era of independence in the grim tempest of history and advance to victory the revolutionary cause of Juche, blessed with the illustrious leaders generation after generation, he said and went on: The Workers’ Party of Korea and the DPRK are shedding rays as Kim Il Sung’s party and state and have achieved the single-minded unity in which the army and people are rallied close around the party.  This helped remarkably strengthen the driving force of the revolution and firmly consolidate the politico-ideological position.  This is the precious fruition of Kim Jong Il’s distinguished political caliber.

The reporter underlined the need for all the party members, service personnel and other people to remain loyal to the monolithic leadership of Kim Jong Il and thoroughly implement the behests of Kim Il Sung, thus build a great prosperous and powerful nation in all fields, bring earlier the national reunification and accomplish the revolutionary cause of juche.

A member of the KPA ties a kerchief around at an initiation ceremony of KISYL (Photo: KCNA)

A meeting of the Kim Il-so’ng Youth League and its affiliated organizations at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium (Photo: KCNA)

The subdued birthday celebrations this year included the usual synchronized swimming, a figure skating show, loyalty meetings of workers’ organizations and the Kimjongilia exhibition.  Kyodo reported that the annual synchronized swimming performance included a routine choreographed to the tune of “Footsteps,” a song about hereditary succession.   The Kim Il-so’ng Youth League and Korean Children’s Union conducted its annual initiation meetings, as well as its study tour to Mt. Paektu.  On 15 February, NDC Vice Chairman and Minister of the People’s Armed Forces, Kim Yo’ng-ch’un (KPA VMar) and Vice Minister of the PAF, Pak Chae-kyo’ng, hosted a reception for Pyongyang-based military attaches.

Pyongyang—The DPRK Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces hosted a reception for the military attaches corps here on Tuesday on the occasion of the birthday of leader Kim Jong Il.

Present there on invitation were members of the corps headed by Sun Yanfeng, military, naval and air attaché of the Chinese embassy.

Minister Kim Yong Chun, Vice Minister Pak Jae Gyong and generals and other officers of the Korean People’s Army were on hand.

Speeches were made at the reception.

A public dancing party of Pyongyangites held in celebration of Kim Cho’ng-il’s birthday outside the 25 April House of Culture. According to one report in the ROK press, Kim Cho’ng-u’n, was nominated as an NDC Vice Chairman at this venue at a meeting in early February this year (Photo: KCNA)

During last year’s birthday celebrations, the DPRK media featured a detailed story about helicopters traveling to geographically remote places in the country to deliver gifts to families and children.  This year, with rumors of hungry KPA service members scavenging DPRK communities for food, KCI’s practice of indok politics may have been limited to islands in the West Sea [Yellow Sea]:

Airplanes flew to eight isolated islets in the West Sea of Korea Monday, carrying gifts of leader Kim Jong Il to the students and children there.

They are So, Jamae, Sok, Suun, Rap, Taehwa, Ka and Than Islets.

Airplanes with gifts on board to fly to the islets on the occasion of Kim Jong Il’s birthday every year.

One aspect of Kim Cho’ng-il’s birthday celebration that goes unreported by the DPRK media is the presentation of cash and other assets to KCI by members of the central leadership (or the foreign currency earners who reside in their patronage networks) in the form of loyalty gifts.  Those gifts are historically managed by an entity within the KWP’s CC Secretariat apparatus called Office #38.

Some Pyongyang watchers believe that Han Kwang-sang (highlighted) in attendance at Kim Cho’ng-il’s tour of the Hyangsan Hotel in January 2010, manages Office #38. (Photo: KCNA)

During 2009 and 2010 many Pyongyang watchers believed that Office #38 formally merged with Office #39 (although they still seemed to operate separately from one another).  With the emergence of Ch’on Il-ch’un (Office #39’s deputy director) in early 2010, Yi Ch’ol (Ri Chol)’s return to Pyongyang in April 2010 and increasing activity connected to the hereditary succession campaign, Office #38 once again became its own entity around June 2010.  Yonhap reports that ROK-based Pyongyang watchers now believe that Office #38 is once again severed from Office #39.

Office 38, whose chief remains unknown, mainly oversees transactions involving foreign currency, hotels and trade, the official said, while Office 39, headed by Jon Il-chun, drives revenue by dealing in narcotics, arms, natural resources and others.

A source privy to North Korea matters said the spin-off suggests that North Korea has been experiencing difficulties in earning foreign currency since merging the two offices.

“Efficiency was probably compromised after the two, which have different functions, were combined,” the source said, declining to be identified citing the speculative nature of the topic.

“More importantly, it seems related to the current state of foreign currency stocks. The North is apparently trying to address those difficulties.”

A person believed to be Kim Cho’ng-ch’o’l with a woman (R) believed to be his wife in attendance at Eric Clapton’s 14 February 2011 concert at Singapore Indoor Stadium (Photo: Yonhap)

Interestingly, among Office #38’s various tasks, one was making logistical and security arrangements for KCI’s family members when they traveled outside the country.  Late arrivals to KCI’s private birthday celebration were his second-oldest son, Kim Cho’ng-ch’o’l, and his youngest known child, Kim Yo’-cho’ng.  Cho’ng-ch’o’l was photographed by KBS attending an Eric Clapton concert in Singapore.  Also observed by KBS was a woman believed to be Cho’ng-ch’o’l’s wife.  His Cream, No Sugar tour of Singapore reportedly included excursions to luxury shops, jewelers and tourism.  Yonhap reports about Cho’ng-ch’o’l’s return trip to the DPRK:

“As far as I know, Kim Jong-chol did not stay in Beijing. He headed straight to Pyongyang via China from Singapore” on Tuesday, a source in the Chinese capital said, adding that Kim appears to have taken a flight by North Korea’s national airline, Air Koryo.

Kim, believed to be 30, was on a personal visit to Singapore and is believed to have spent most of the time shopping and sightseeing, including a visit to the island of Sentosa, before leaving on Tuesday, sources there said.

South Korean broadcaster KBS on Tuesday broadcast the footage of Kim enjoying a Clapton concert held on Monday in Singapore. Kim was seen with a young woman at the concert, and sources said that it was his 24-year-old sister, Kim Yo-jong. The two went to a Swiss school together in the 1990s.

An affiliate of 38 North