North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

KJI National Memorial Service Held

Members of the DPRK central leadership bow during a national memorial service for Kim Jong Il on 29 December 2011 in Kim Il Sung Square in central Pyongyang. In this image (L-R) are: Jang Song Taek (NDC Vice-chairman and Administration Director for the party); Kim Ki Nam (party secretary and director of propaganda and agitation); Gen. O Kuk Ryol (NDC Vice-chairman); VMar Ri Yong Mu (NDC Vice-chairman, members of the Kim Family); VMar Kim Yong Chun (NDC Vice-chairman and Minister of the People's Armed Forces); VMar Ri Yong Ho (chief of the KPA General Staff and Vice-chairman of the Party Central Military Commission); Kim Jong Un (Vice-chairman of the Party Central Military Commission); and Kim Yong Nam (President of the SPA Presidium) (Photo: KCNA-Yonhap)

The DPRK conducted a national memorial service for Kim Jong Il on the morning of 29 December in Kim Il Sung Square in central Pyongyang.  His son and hereditary successor, Kim Jong Un, stood in the center of the reviewing stand in the spot where, in the past, KJI was seen watching military parades.  KCNA reports:

Present there were members of the National Funeral Committee, Nam Sung U, vice-chairman of the Central Standing Committee of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, officials of the party, state, armed forces and power bodies, public organizations, ministries and national institutions, men and officers of the KPA and the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces, officials in the fields of science, education, culture, arts, public health and media, anti-Japanese revolutionary fighters, bereaved families of revolutionary martyrs, mourners delegations from all provinces, people of all social standings, a mourners delegation of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, anti-Japanese revolutionary fighters in China, those related to the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle in China, families of Chinese related to the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle and their parties, mourners groups of overseas Koreans and other overseas Koreans, the chief of the Pyongyang Mission of the Anti-Imperialist National Democratic Front, diplomatic envoys of foreign countries, members of the military attaches corps and representatives of international organizations here and foreign guests.

All the participants in the memorial service observed a moment’s silence in humblest reverence in memory of Kim Jong Il who worked heart and soul to accomplish the cause of building a thriving socialist nation till the last moments of his great life.

Kim Yong Nam, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK and president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK, made a memorial address.

He said:

Kim Jong Il, who devoted energies and tireless efforts to the accomplishment of the revolutionary cause of Juche, national reunification and global independence, passed away so suddenly and so early to our regret. This is the greatest loss to the WPK and the revolution and the biggest loss to the nation which no one could have ever imagined.

All the people, men and women of all ages, who suffered the greatest loss of the nation, unbelievable, visited the bier of Kim Jong Il and the mourning stations in the whole mourning period to mourn his demise in humblest reverence.

Born as the son of guerrillas in Mt. Paektu, the holy mountain of the revolution, Kim Jong Il led the revolution and construction to victory with his brilliant wisdom, outstanding ideas and theories, extraordinary leadership ability and noble virtues for a long period, performing the undying revolutionary feats for the country, the nation, the times and history.

He made a new history of accomplishing the cause of perpetuating the memory of President Kim Il Sung with his noblest revolutionary moral obligation, making sure that the lofty revolutionary life and feats of the President were enshrined in the hearts of the Korean people and mankind to shed rays forever.

The revolutionary career of Kim Jong Il was a history of a heroic epic of the Songun brilliant commander born of Heaven and peerlessly great man who defended the sovereignty of the DPRK and put the dignity of the country on the highest level while resolutely shattering the moves of the imperialist allied forces for sanctions, pressure and moves for a war with arms.

Not putting off a jumper all his life, he made forced marches with his indefatigable efforts for field guidance to bring a happy life to the Korean people, considering a day as ten, nay a hundred days. We can never forget this dedication and efforts made by him.

He was, indeed, an outstanding statesman, peerlessly great man and a great sage of the revolution who steadily advanced the Korean revolution along the road of victory.

Prompted by his noble mission to carve out the destiny of the country and the nation and the future of the revolution, he gave a steady continuity to the tradition of the revolutionary cause of Juche, the Songun revolutionary cause which started on Mt. Paektu.

He perfectly solved the issue of the succession to the leadership, the hardcore in succeeding to the revolutionary cause. This was the noblest feat he performed for the destiny of the country and the eternal prosperity of all generations to come.

Standing at the helm of the Korean revolution is Kim Jong Un, the successor to the revolutionary cause of Juche.

Kim Jong Un is the supreme leader of our party and army and people as he fully personified the ideas and leadership, personality, virtues, grit and courage of Kim Jong Il.

We will turn sorrow into thousand-fold strength and courage and tide over the present difficulties and more dynamically advance along the road of Songun indicated by Kim Jong Il under the leadership of Kim Jong Un.

We, who made a pledge in bitter tears before the bier of Kim Jong Il, will accomplish the cause of the Songun revolutionary cause, the cause of building a thriving socialist nation, holding Kim Jong Un in high esteem as another General and supreme leader.

The noble and august name of Kim Jong Il and his image with a broad smile on his face will shine for all ages and he will always live in the hearts of the servicepersons and people of the DPRK.

Kim Ki Nam, member of the Political Bureau and secretary of the C.C., the WPK, spoke at the memorial service on behalf of the WPK, Kim Jong Gak, alternate member of the Political Bureau of the C.C., the WPK and first vice director of the General Political Bureau of the KPA, on behalf of the KPA and Ri Yong Chol, first secretary of the C.C., the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League, on behalf of the youth and students.

Kim Yong Nam speaks during the national memorial service for Kim Jong Il on 29 December 2011 (Photo: KCNA-Yonhap)

A view of the leadership's reviewing stand and a smiling portrait of Kim Jong Il during the national memorial service for KJI on 29 December 2011 (Photo: KCNA-Yonhap)

Korea Herald reported about what may come next for Kim Jong Un:

On the surface, the hereditary power succession appears to be well underway with the North’s sate media hailing him as top leader of both the ruling party and the 1.2-million-strong military.

On the Wednesday’s edition of the Rodong Sinmun, the party’s official daily, top officials in support of Jong-un pledged allegiance to him, saying they would “uphold his leadership” to achieve the goal of becoming a power state.

Despite the media blitz intended to boost his legitimacy as next leader, experts point out that what is urgent for him is to build a strong leadership to ensure loyalty from the power echelon and grassroots.

For the short term, Jong-un will smoothly lead the country with his so-called guardians assisting him in managing state affairs, they said, noting that support for him could erode in the event of policy flip-flops and power struggles.

“The possibility is high that the sole leadership system will weaken given his young age, lack of experience and a short grooming period. In the future, his regime cannot help but falter,” said Chung Kyu-sup, North Korea expert at Kwandong University.

Chung added that for the time being, Jong-un will follow the policy direction his father has set while avoiding making risky decisions to stabilize his country.

“As it basically has to maintain the closed society to continue the third-generation succession and sole leadership system, there is almost no possibility that the North will immediately move in the direction of reform, openness and renouncement of nuclear ambitions,” he said.

Jeung Young-tae, senior researcher at Korea Institute for National Unification, said that Jong-un may not be able to control all powerful state and party organs by himself in the way his father had done.

However, Jeung underscored as the vested interests in the North want stability, the status quo will be maintained least for several years.

“He is, in fact, too weak to control all organs as his father had done. He may control them indirectly with assistance from his supporters. Leaders of the organs, however, could move against him in the future, but for now, things will be smooth on the surface,” he said.

KJI’s funeral program (i.e. the two days of ceremonies and motorcade) marked the official debut of the DPRK new-ish central leadership, according to Hankyoreh:

Kim Jong-un→Jang Song-thaek→Kim Ki-nam→Choe Thae-bok→Ri Yong-ho→Kim Yong-chun→Kim Jong-gak→U Tong-chuk (presumed). This was the list of the North Korean leadership who escorted the hearse at the funeral of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on Wednesday. Observers interpret this as perhaps a signal that they will form the core leadership that will lead North Korea under the post-Kim Jong-il system of Kim Jong-un. With the eyes of the North Korean people and the world on them, these major North Korean leadership figures watched over the departed Kim and his incoming successor, Kim Jong-un, the closest.

The most significant thing was the appearance order of National Defence Commission vice chairman Jang Song-thaek. With the exception of Jang, the other figures generally followed the same rank as they were on the funeral committee. On the right side of the hearse were figures from the Workers’s Party of Korea and state like party secretary Kim Ki-nam, who was 8th on the funeral committee list, and Supreme People’s Assembly chairman Choe Thae-bok, who was 9th. On the left side of the hearse were military figures: chief of general staff of the Korean People’s Army and WPK Central Military Commission vice chairman Ri Yong-ho, who was 4th; defense minister Kim Yong-chun, who was 5th; and first vice-director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army Kim Jong-gak, who was 24th. Jang, on the other hand, was listed at only 19th on the funeral commission list, but he stood right behind Kim Jong-un. This is interpreted as a scene symbolically showing that Jang is playing the role of central guardian of the Kim Jong-un regime, regardless of his official position on the funeral committee list. On Dec 25, Jang appeared on Korea Central TV in a general’s uniform to pay his respects at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, signaling that along with the military leadership he would play the role of pivot of the supporting forces of the Kim Jong-un system.

It is also noteworthy that each of these figures could be seen as representing the WPK, the state and the military leadership. University of North Korean Studies professor Yang Moo-jin said one could view Jang as representing the National Defence Commission, the highest leadership body according to the North Korean constitution; Kim Ki-nam as representing the WPK; and Choe as representing the Supreme People’s Assembly, North Korea’s highest sovereign body. Meanwhile, on the military leadership side, it appears Ri came to represent the general staff of the KPA, Kim Yong-chun came to represent the defense ministry, and Kim Jong-gak came to represent the General Political Bureau, the three major organizations within the military, he said. Along the same lines, some also observe that it could have been a calculated scene to plant the impression that the major figures of the party, National Defence Commission and military leadership who advised Kim Jong-il would follow the Kim Jong-un regime with loyalty. The inclusion of Kim Ki-nam, a WPK secretary in charge of propaganda, was the second party official on the list, coming just after Kim Kuk-thae (7th), Inspection Committee Chairman of the WPK Central Committee; this appears to have been out of consideration that Kim is a close aide who has handled the propaganda efforts of the Kim Jong-un regime.

Some obervers think the positioning of the military leaders in other order of Ri, Kim Yong-chun and Kim Jong-gak could be seen as meaning that the “palace guard” of Ri and Kim Jong-gak would lead, while at the same time embracing old guard figures like Kim Yong-chun, who some believed had been forced out by forces close to Kim Jong-un. The positing could be seen as intended to show that the regime is already firmly securing the loyalty of the old guard rather than form a new military leadership.

JoongAng Ilbo published a series of profiles about key DPRK elites who will form the basis of Jong Un’s political support, including central party secretary Choe Ryong Hae, National Defense Commission member and General Political Department senior deputy director Gen. Kim Jong Gak and Pyongyang power couple Jang Song Taek and Kim Kyong Hui.  The first in the series focused on VMar Ri Yong Ho, chief of the KPA General Staff:

Ri’s prominence highlights the fact that the military will continue to have a central role in Pyongyang – and possibly a larger role than when Kim Jong-il was alive. But he also may play the role of a guardian protecting the new, young leader.

Born in 1942 – the same year as Kim Jong-il – Ri grew up in Tongchon, Kangwon Province, in North Korea, the same hometown as the late Hyundai Group founder Chung Ju-yung. In September 2003, Ri was appointed lieutenant general of the Army and was promoted to general in 2009. Just a year and half later in September 2010, he became vice marshal of the Army and the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, holding equal rank as Jong-un.

Experts speculate that his speedy promotion was related to the succession plan for Kim Jong-un, who made his first public appearance at that time.

When Ri was lieutenant general, he was in charge of tightening security in Pyongyang, a critical job that Kim Jong-il assigned only to someone he completely trusted. He also commanded the military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the Army in 2007.

When Ri was made general in February 2009, Ri was also made the Army’s chief of staff, replacing Kim Kyok-sik.

Kim Kyok-sik was sent to the strategically important city of Haeju, South Hwanghae Province, on the Yellow Sea, as commander of the Fourth Army Corps, which oversees the western frontline. He is suspected to have directed the torpedoing of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March 2010. But Kim, who was considered one of the closest confidants of Kim Jong-il, did not make it onto the funeral committee.

Gen. Kim Myo'ng-kuk (highlighted) clutches a radio while directing KPA officers and service members during KJI's funeral cortege on 28 December (Photo: KCNA)

One key member of the leadership seen walking with KJI’s Lincoln hearse at the end of the cortege on 28 December was Gen. Kim Myong Guk (Kim Myo’ng-kuk), head of the KPA General Staff Operations Bureau [GSOB].  To many Pyongyang watchers, Gen. Kim was usually observed standing behind KJI during military parades and exercises.  Prior to his demise, KJI ensured that Kim Jong Un was photographed with Gen. Kim.

One of the mystery women, standing behind members of the central leadership during a visit to KJI's casket bier (Photo: KCTV-Yonhap)

When KJI was alive, this Pyongyang watcher puzzled over the hidden members of his entourage.  These individuals were always airbrushed from the KCNA shots and their names did not turn up in DPRK media reports, but one could occasionally catch sight of them in the official documentary films about KJI’s activities.  Until September 2010, Kim Jong Un was one of these people.  In addition to the prominent presence of Kim Yo Jong, at KJI’s funeral, Korea Times has found another mystery girl.  Very few cross Jang Song Taek’s path at an official event and walk way from it:

Kim Jong-un, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party, was seen paying his last respects to his father accompanied by ranking officials in a video of the funeral service on North Korea Central TV at around 11 p.m. Wednesday.

In additional footage a young woman is seen next to Jong-un’s aunt Kim Kyung-hee, chief of the Light Industry Ministry within the Workers’ Party, along with another lady presumed to be his sister, Kim Yeo-jeong.

The lady entered Gumsusan Memorial Hall, where the body of the late Kim was laid, along with new leader Kim Jong-un, 20-30 top political leaders, several security guards, Kim Kyung-hee and Kim Yeo-jeong, Yonhap News reported.

The lady stands close to vice chairman Kim dressed in black like the two other women who appeared from the outset. She was slender with a stylish hairdo.

The lady, half hidden by a pillar, was looking at Kim Jong-un who was paying respects with his head deeply bowed. She had her hands folded in front of her, unlike the two women who also paid respects to the late Kim.

She was also seen passing alone without hesitation in front of “second man” Chang Sung-thaek and Jong-un’s sister, who were entering the hall.

After watching the footage, North Korean experts presumed that she was the wife of Kim Jong-un, the news agency reported.

No one, except Vice Chairman Kim’s wife, would have dared to pass in front of “second man” Chang Sung-thaek and the younger sister of the new leader in an easy manner.

Rumors have been circulating in the North that Kim Jong-un married a woman who had graduated from Kim Il-sung University last year, Yonhap reported.

It was also circulated that the lady could be Kim Seol-song, 37, or Kim Chun-song, 35, who were born between the late Kim and his second wife Kim Young-suk, an expert said.

But he added that it is highly unlikely for half sisters to show up at the funeral service in the North Korean political climate which bans those not belonging to the main family line from attending such an important event.

Other experts presume that the lady may be a personal secretary of the junior Kim.

No one beats the personal secretary of the top leader in the North in terms of power.

Kim Ok, the fourth wife of the late Kim Jong-il, was a personal secretary of the late Kim.

No stranger to mystery girls and mystery men, James Church, the supreme guru on most anything DPRK, writes on 38 North about an event which was not completely unexpected:

Unless Kim Jong Il showed symptoms in the days just before his heart attack on December 17 that alarmed his retinue, it is probably true that the specific date of his death was a surprise and a shock. But does that mean there had been no preparations for such an eventuality? Apparently, Kim had nearly died in July 2008 from a stroke; for some period of time (many days) after his stroke, he was probably incapacitated, maybe incapable of giving orders or even understanding what was going on. Subsequently, his death might have been a taboo subject to discuss, but all in the leadership who were close to the situation knew that it was not an abstraction anymore, and that some plan had to be put in place for the next time.

This would not have been done behind Kim’s back, and certainly not in the face of his opposition. But was he opposed? The succession process of Jong Un, already on track before July 2008, was put into high gear not long afterwards. And although those of us on the outside were kept pretty much in the dark about Kim Jong Un throughout much of 2009, there is good reason to believe that his existence and even his likely status as successor-to-be was not kept a secret from the population. I cannot say that every farmer in every remote county in Jagang Province knew his name, but the party Propaganda and Agitation Department was seemingly already hard a work constructing and disseminating his legend among the general population.

In other words, Kim Jong Un’s emergence at the WPK conference in September 2010 was not a surprise to anyone in North Korea who had been paying attention, and that probably included most of the adult population. Similarly, from the way the media treated the son during the first 11 months of 2011, there could be no doubt that he was approaching a coequal status with Kim Jong Il (I said “approaching”) and was already considered by the elder Kim as his successor. If that is true, then there was likely no shock, no gap, no basis for a whisper of complaint by late in the day on December 17 when upon Kim’s death having been confirmed and reported to at least a select few in the leadership, the Guard Command moved to envelope Kim Jong Un in the protective security cocoon designated for No. 1.

There is undoubtedly beating within the breast of at least one general officer in the Korean People’s Army a vengeful heart. Who that might be we won’t know until: 1) he suddenly disappears or 2) he makes a successful grab for power. Will such a heart also beat in the ranks of the regency group of elders organized to tutor, guide, and nurture Kim Jong Un, helping steer him over and around the swamps on his path to taking full power? That’s a possibility, but more likely the members of this group were selected exactly because there was no question of their loyalty to Kim Jong Il and his plans for the future, most especially the plans for install Kim Jong Un as successor.

Kim Jong Il himself had a regency group of sorts helping him during the early years of his grooming to be successor. By the time he took over in 1994, however, he had his hands firmly on the levers of power, and had no need of senior protectors.

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