Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
The pinnacle of observing the North Korean leadership may likely come in Kim Jong-il’s public (or semi-public) appearances, especially Guidance Tours (also known as On the Spot Guidance, or if one is martially inclined, Field Guidance). There is nothing especial from these reports (carried through Rodong Sinmun/Korea Central News Agency and often syndicated by Xinua, and on occasion, Yonhap News Agency), but it’s an opportunity to see whatever propaganda line the KWP is currently disseminating. With external observers (particularly many clueless members of the Western press) circumscribing Kim Jong-il’s public appearances with unnecessary question marks, this has presented an opportunity for armchair MD’s to diagnose General-Secretary Kim’s physical health. First,the North Korean press seldom places a date on Guidance Tours or the photos. One can go back several years (long before the stroke) and find that the North Korean press wasn’t applying dates to these appearances. This is most likely done for security reasons: if external observers know, say, that General-Secretary Kim was in Anju-si or Sunchon then it is safe to assume he’s spending time at the Yonphoong Chalet. Kim Jong-il has also made an effort at these appearances to demonstrate that his health has mostly recovered (if the account of a former US President was not sufficient). According to most accounts, Guidance Tours are usually publicized through the North Korean press within 24 to 36 hours after they occur. So, onto a summary and observations of Kim Jong-il’s never-ending tour in pursuit of kangson taeguk.
This week’s guidance had undertones of the poet Virgil’s soldier-farmer ideal. It began with a photo op at “a meeting of non-commissioned officers of the KPA in extra service now under way in Pyongyang.” It does not state what “extra service” the KPA soldiers are performing in and around Pyongyang. Perhaps it was construction, meeting any shortfalls of the recently concluded 150 Day Battle Campaign. Then again, they may have been mobilized to the capital city as additional security for General-Secretary Kim, whose guidance was entirely based in Pyongyang this week. And was there an actual meeting, one where the Army’s NCO’s were debriefed? Or was the sole purpose of the meeting to have a group photograph taken with the Supreme Commander? Speaking of the Supreme Commander, he was joined by his usual military cohorts from the NDC and MPAF, with his constant KPA companions, Generals Ri Myong-su and Hyon Chol-hae , both senior managers of the constitutionally-enhanced body the National Defense Commission. What the written account does not say, but the television report shows is that this took place at Kumsusan Memorial Palace.
General-Secretary Kim then kicked it down the road into the spheres of light industry, at the Taedonggang Foodstuffs Factory and the Pyongyang Textile Machine Factory. According to KCNA, the Taedonggang Foodstuffs Factory is “newly built”, although it does not say whether this new construction was part of the recently completed 150 Day Battle Campaign. The written account does refer to “soldier-builders” who constructed the factory, which is a convenient tie-in to the previous photo op with members of the KPA. Kim Jong-il then visited the Pyongyang Textile Machine Factory, which was updated in 2006. According to the official biography, General-Secretary Kim worked at this factory for twenty (20) days in 1961 when he was a university student. The written account of these visits state that Kim Kyong-hui (making what are becoming monthly appearances in the North Korean press) was part of Kim Jong-il’s entourage, however she does not appear in any photographs, either those made available by KCNA or the still shots which appear on the television account. A lack of photography does not indicate that Ms. Kim was not present during these inspections. Her husband, Jang Song-thaek, is not mentioned in the accounts, but he is prominent in the photographs at Kim Jong-il’s left side. NK Leadership Watch does not subscribe to cohort analysis, but it is interesting to see which KWP executives are photographed, but go unmentioned, and which high-level cadres are camera-shy.
Catfish, You million-dollar man
The rolling convoy of the Guard Command’s armor-reinforced black Mercedes Benz sedans did not slow down (these security measures must have caused something resembling traffic gridlock on Pyongyang’s typically desolate roads). Around 29 September, Kim Jong-il made additional three (3) more guidance visits in Pyongyang. The first stop was to the Pyongyang Catfish Farm, which is a seemingly functional entity contributing something to the DPRK’s meager food supply. General-Secretary Kim is a notorious gourmand, and medical studies show that eating fish lowers the blood pressure, so one can assume he took a personal vested interest in this guidance visit.
He went to the 7 December Factory, which is a light industry factory, before returning to Kim Il-sung University’s swimming complex. General-Secretary Kim last visited KISU’s swimming complex in March 2009, a pre-Supreme People’s Assembly election appearance. As with the Taedonggang Foodstuffs Factory, he “appreciated the feats performed by the solider builders.” Note in the photograph below that Kim Jong-il is seated. With the exception of attending performances, presiding over formal State events or watching KPA drills, General-Secretary Kim has tended not to sit (or at least photographed doing so) during his guidance visits. While this may indicate something about the condition of his physical health, it is certainly symbolic that he is contented to settle into the role of elder statesman, similar to his father. If one looks to 1980’s footage (such as preparations for the 6th Party Congress in 1980) one will find Kim Jong-il briefing a seated Kim Il-sung. The moviemaking Supreme Commander is certainly aware of the symbolism.
During the visit General-Secretary Kim remarked, “We find our joy and happiness and the worth of making revolution when seeing this bright and cheerful appearance of the younger generation, the future of the country.” Conjoined with “soldier builders” (a veiled reference, perhaps, to the National Defense Commission via the KPA) a reference to “younger generation, the future of the country” could hint at succession. And yet the language is different than previous analyses that portended Kim Jong-un (the youngest son) as successor, which was based on “revolutionary upswing. . .of youth.” Then again, these hints are not really aimed at external observers.
Location of Pyongyang Catfish Farm on Wikimapia (apologies for the satmap vandalism)
Korea Central News Agency, 29 September 2009
Korea Central News Agency, 29 September 2009
Korea Central News Agency, 30 September 2009