North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

Generation After Generation After. . .

Supreme People's Assembly Presidium Vice President Yang Hyong Sop (R) shakes hands with Thomas Curley, President of the Associate Press on 16 January 2012 (Photo: KCNA)

Yang Hyong Sop, Vice President of the Supreme People’s Assembly [SPA], gave an interview to the Associated Press[AP] on 16 January (Monday) in which he dispelled questions about the youth and career experience of hereditary successor Kim Jong Un.  Yang said that despite the 17 December death of Kim Jong Il, “we are not worried a bit because we know that we are being led by comrade Kim Jong Un who is fully prepared to carry on the heritage created by the great Gen. Kim Jong Il.”  With regard to KJU’s experience Yang told the AP, “the respected comrade Kim Jong Un had long assisted the great Gen. Kim Jong Il. . .he has helped the great general in many different aspects, not only in military affairs, but also the economy and other areas as well.”  Jean H. Lee reported for AP:

The white mourning bouquets and massive portraits of the departed leader have been cleared from Pyongyang’s main buildings and monuments. People are busy getting back to daily life, with children whizzing down icy slopes on wooden sleds and workers running to catch morning buses and trams as the Kim Jong Un ode “Footsteps” blares over loudspeakers.

Vast Kim Il Sung Square, where a sea of mourners converged after Kim’s death, was ghostly quiet except for a few people who scurried quickly across the frigid plaza.

In recent weeks, as North Koreans filled the capital’s streets with their emotive mourning and the government staged elaborate funeral proceedings, party and military officials moved quickly to install Kim’s son as “supreme leader” of the people, party and military.

Kim Jong Un had been kept out of the public eye for most of his life before suddenly emerging as his father’s heir only in September 2010. Though still in his 20s, he was quickly promoted to four-star general and named a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

But the new ruler’s youth and quick ascension to power have raised questions in foreign capitals about how ready he is to inherit rule over this nation of 24 million with a nuclear program as well chronic trouble feeding all its people.

Yang said he had no concerns about Kim’s ability to lead.

“The respected comrade Kim Jong Un had long assisted the great Gen. Kim Jong Il,” he told AP. “It’s not a secret that he has helped the great general in many different aspects — not only in military affairs but also the economy and other areas as well.”

A soft-spoken octogenarian who is vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and a standing member of the powerful Political Bureau of the Communist party’s Central Committee, Yang has long-standing ties with the Kim family that stretch back to his close alliance with the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

During a 2010 interview with Associated Press Television News in Pyongyang, he provided the first confirmation by a government official that Kim Jong Un would eventually become the nation’s next leader.

“He knows what the exact intention of the great Gen. Kim Jong Il was,” he said Monday.

His comments this week indicated there would be little change to major policies laid out by Kim Jong Un’s father in the three years before his death. Yang said the new leader was focused on a “knowledge-based” economy and looking at economic reforms enacted by other nations, including China.

SPA Presidium Vice President Yang Hyong Sop (6th L) poses with Chinese diplomatic counsel Miao Weicheng (5th R) and other PRC and DPRK officials on 17 January 2012 after a ceremony in which Miao was given the DPRK Order of Friendship (Photo: KCNA)

Kim Jong Nam's family tree

Yang’s interview was the first major story filed from newly-opened AP bureau in Pyongyang.  Yang’s remarks stayed close to messaging in the DPRK media, an essay of which recently said, “The governments and media of hostile states are attempting to mislead public opinions by rattling off a stream of abuses, talking about some kind ‘lack of experience’ and ‘hasty succession process’ . . .the leadership succession had been steadily carried out since long ago in the DPRK and the world was simply not fully aware of it.”  The Yang interview also occurred at the beginning of a week when a series of exchanges between a Japanese journalist and Kim Jong Il’s eldest son, Kim Jong Nam, will be released.  The experience question figures prominently in the book’s snippets quoted by Chosun Ilbo:

Kim Jong-nam, who was passed over for the leadership in favor of his younger brother Kim Jong-un, expresses doubts about his brother’s ability and the dynastic succession in general. “I’m concerned how Jong-un, who merely resembles my grandfather [former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung], will be able to satisfy the needs of North Koreans,” he wrote. “Kim Jong-un is still just a nominal figure and the members of the power elite will be the ones in actual power.” Kim added that his father had originally intended to halt the hereditary transfer of power, saying it would only damage his and his father’s “accomplishments.” But he changed his mind because he came to believe that the Kim family bloodline was necessary to maintain the stability of the North Korean regime. Kim Jong-nam said even North Korea’s sole ally China is less than enamored of the situation. “Rather than welcoming the hereditary succession, China is merely acknowledging it for the sake of maintaining stability,” he said. “The dynastic succession is a joke to the outside world.” Kim also commented on North Korea’s deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010. “It was a provocation by North Korea’s military to justify their status and existence and the possession of nuclear weapons,” he said. When asked about his thoughts on the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan, Kim said, “From North Korea’s perspective, there was a need to stress that the area surrounding [the five northernmost South Korean islands in the West Sea] is a war zone.” He added, “That is how the songun (military first) doctrine and the development and possession of nuclear weapons are justified.” Kim said he fell out of favor with his father because of his insistence on reform. “After I went back to North Korea following my education in Switzerland, I grew further apart from my father because I insisted on reform and market-opening and was eventually viewed with suspicion,” he recalled. “My father felt very lonely after sending me to study abroad. Then my half brothers Jong-chol and Jong-un and half sister Yeo-jong were born and his adoration was moved on to them. And when he felt that I’d turn into a capitalist after living abroad for years, he shortened the overseas education of my brothers and sister.” Kim said he told his father what was on his mind whenever he got a chance. “I told him honestly how the international community was concerned about the nuclear tests and missile launches and I am asking him to train my brother [Kim Jong-un] well in order to ensure a good life for the people.” Asked about his relations with his aunt Kim Kyong-hui and uncle Jang Song-taek, who are the patrons of the new leader, he said, “I still have good relations with them and they are fond of me. They pay special attention to me.”

On 11 January 2012, several ROK media outlets reported on the number adult children, in-laws and other family members of DPRK elites (some of whom are long dead) who were promoted or appointed to party, government, military or foreign trade positions over the last few years.  The illustrations below show a selection** of familial relationships among current and deceased or former members of the DPRK leadership.  These focus on parent-offspring relationships.


**There are other familial relationships among DPRK elites which will be illustrated over the next week

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