revised 14 February 2012
Kim Ok is a section chief, or department director, in the National Defense Commission [NDC] and is believed to be Kim Jong Il’s fifth common-law wife. She has worked as one of KJI’s subordinates since the late 1980s. According to some sources Kim Ok’s many years of service and daily access to KCI have established her as one of the regime’s hidden power players.
Kim Ok was born in 1964. By most accounts Kim attended the P’yongyang University of Music with a concentration in piano and was recruited into the Cadres 5th Section as a performer for Kim Jong Il’s parties for his inner circle.
She played electronic piano in a trio and was a member of the Wangjaesan Light Music Band. She started working for Kim Cho’ng-il in an office manager-type position at one of his residences around 1987. According to several accounts if Kim Jong Il did not attend social events with his then common-law Ko Yong Hui (Kim Jong Un’s mother) he attended them with Kim Ok.
Kim Ok was reported to have become Kim Jong Il’s “first lady” in 2006, two years after the death of Ko Yong Hui. In 2007, after the DPRK-ROK summit in Pyongyang in October, Yonhap News Agency reported that Kim Ok was working as a section chief (or department head) in the NDC. In 2007 her power as Kim Jong Il’s main gatekeeper increased as he began experiencing dizziness and blurry vision in his office. Her role in maintaining the flow of communications and information during KCI’s medical leave from August to October 2008 elicited the attention of PRC observers, who previously dismissed her as a gossip attraction for ROK and Japanese media.
Kim Ok allegedly participated in Kim Jong Il’s August 2009 meeting with Hyundai’s Hyun Jeong-eun. She was observed attending a DPRK leadership meeting with PRC Premier Wen Jiabao during KJI’s trip in May 2010. She was also observed to be working at a desk, without a name plate, as a senior staff member during KCI’s meeting with PRC President Hu Jintao during the DPRK leadership’s second trip to the PRC from 26 to August 2010.
A woman resembling Kim Ok was observed posing in a commemorative photograph for participants in the 3rd Party Conference/September 2010 CC KWP Plenum. Kim Ok was also observed standing near other event and security staff on the rear of the reviewing stand for the military parade for the party’s 65th anniversary in October 2010. She also traveled to Russia with KJI in August 2011. In December 2011, at KJI’s funeral, she was part of a group of mourners from KJI’s personal and security staff who greeted Kim Jong Un. On 14 February 2012 Kim Ok was one of the first recipients of the Order of Kim Jong Il, a state title created after his death.
Numerous accounts have contended that Kim Ok was a strong support of Kim Jong Un’s succession. She developed close ties to Jang Song Taek and Kim Kyong Hui, among others, as the country’s transitional leadership began to take shape during 2008-2009. Kim’s father is a former professor at Kim Il Sung University and is currently a deputy director of the party’s Finance and Accounting Department. Her brother, Kim Kye, is 1st Vice President of KIS University.
Kim Ok is 158 cm (approximately 5’1) and described as “a petite woman with a pretty round face.” She was one one of the few members of Kim Jong Il’s retinue who could speak to him candidly without any deferential pretense associated with his position. She was also his first common-law wife who has been involved, even in a technical and casual sense, in the DPRK’s policymaking and notification process. Kim Ok resides on the 12th floor of an apartment building for members of KJI’s staff at the corner of Ch’angkwang and Namsan Streets in the central district of P’yongyang.
Open source reporting on Kim Ok can yield a workable thumbnail image of her personal history and career. However, available accounts in the open source on the nature of her relationship with Kim Cho’ng-il and the degree of her influence in the regime’s political culture remain contradictory.
- According to a dancer in the Mansudae Art Troupe, “Ko Yong Hui did not attend every party, but when she did she sat by Kim Jong Il, dancing with him sometimes…when Ko Yong Hui was not with him, Kim Jong Il always had by him Kim Ok.”
- One account claims that Kim Ok incurred the envy of Ko Yong Hui which required Kim Ok to leave the DPRK until Ko passed away in 2004.
- Kenji Fujimoto, KJI’s former sushi chef, said that among Kim Ok’s tasks in working for KJI was distributing money to DPRK elites traveling abroad, as well as paying the salaries household and domestic personnel (such as Fujimoto) with cash from one of KJI’s personal safes.
- Some in the ROK P’yongyang watching community have attributed the expanded role if the National Defense Commission which started around 2006-07 to Kim Ok’s influence. Personnel migrations in the NDC and other high command organizations that occurred in 2007 included Kim Ok’s assignment of her current title. Additional personnel migrations from 2008 to 2010, some centered on or around the NDC, may have been influenced by Kim Ok.
- It is not known if Kim Jong Il and Kim have any children together.
- One report in 2009 said, “Kim Ok wields tremendous influence and personally dresses down senior officials and issues direct orders.” Another report alleged that Kim Ok was no longer working for Kim Jong Il and had no other connection to him due to the increasing presence of KCI’s sister, Kim Kyong Hui.
- Much of the open source reporting on Kim Ok indicates that she plays a significant, if behind-the-scenes, role in succession and that she support Jong Un’s succession wholeheartedly. When Kim Ok appeared at the commemorative photo after the September 2010 party events, she stood alongside KCI’s youngest known child, Jong Un’s younger sister, Kim Yo’-cho’ng. One report speculated that Kim Ok supported Jong Un’s succession simply “to control him.”
1 See “Torrid Romantic Life of Kim Jong Il,” Chosun Ilbo, August 8, 2009; “Kim Jong Il’s New Mistress is Guarding the Safe,” by Kim So Young, Daily NK, August 22, 2006; “Kim Jong Il Marries Former Secretary,” Chosun Ilbo, July, 24, 2006; “N. Korea Enhances Kim’s Defense Commission,” by Chin Tae-ung, Korea Herald, May 20, 2007; “N. Korea’s Ruling Dynasty Firmly in Place,” Chosun Ilbo, 1 December 2009; “Kim Jong Il’s Women Banned from Succession Planning,” by Richard Spencer, Daily Telegraph, January 4, 2009; “DPRK NDC is Expanded, Restructured into Permanent Structure,” by Ch’oe So’n-yo’ng, Yonhap News Agency, October, 5, 2007 ; “Kim’s ‘first lady’ accompanied China visit,” Korea Times, May 8, 2010; “ ‘Fourth Wife’ Seen Accompanying Kim Jong Il,” YTN News Broadcast, August 31, 2010; Kin Seinichi Daizukana (Tokyo), June 20, 2000, pp 94-118, Foreign Broadcast Information Service; “Kim Jong-il’s mistress may have new lover,” by Jeong Yong-soo, JoongAng Ilbo, November 23, 2009; “Kim Jong Il’s naming of Cho’ng-u’n does end successor issue,” Shukan Gendai, January, 20, 2009; “North Korea power elite prepare for Kim Jong-un’s succession,” by Kim So-hyun, Korea Herald, June 23, 2009