Saturday 02 May 2020
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un appeared in public for the first time in three weeks, after his unjustified absence raised questions about who might take over the nuclear-armed state if he dies, state media said on Saturday.
North Korea has never announced who might succeed Kim Kim Jong-un in the event that he is unable to perform the functions of government. In light of the lack of any details about his sons, analysts say that his sister and his closest companions may form a trusteeship council for the authority until the age of his successor reaches the appropriate age to take over.
The speculation intensified after Kim, who is believed to be thirty-six, missed the ceremony marking the birthday of his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea on April 15. Rumors have since spread of his severe illness or death.
Every change in the leadership in North Korea raises the prospect of a power vacuum or the collapse of the rule of the Kim dynasty that has assumed power in the country since its founding in 1948.
Kim became the leader of North Korea after his father Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack in 2011.
So far, the three named Kim from the royal family have broken expectations and clung to power with an iron fist. But during Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s arsenal of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles has grown significantly, raising additional concerns about who will control it.
Here are some of the key figures in the North Korean leadership’s inner circle and the roles they may play in any possible transition:
Kim Yoo Jung
The younger sister of the North Korean leader and had the largest public presence near him for the past two years. She officially holds the position of deputy director of the ruling Central Committee of the ruling Labor Party, and so is her brother’s chief of staff, but informally. She was also appointed this month as an alternate member of the political office of the ruling party, which is a continuation of her ascension to the leadership ladder.
She appeared on a prominent site again today, Saturday, next to her brother, in photos published by the official media, which show Kim’s presence to open a fertilizer factory.
It is believed that the leader’s sister, who is said to be thirty-one, has strong control over the basic tasks of the party, making it the primary source of authority behind any collective leadership of the country.
“At present, Kim Yu-jung will be the primary base of power by controlling the organization, extension, judiciary, and public security,” says Shu Han-bum of the Korean Institute for National Unity, a government-funded research institution in Seoul.
Senior party men
Choi Ryung Hye was promoted last year to the honorary president of North Korea as chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly Standing Committee.
This culminated in decades of service with the party during the Kim dynasty and after assuming the post of political leadership of the army under the current leader.
Analysts say that Choi, along with his political bureau member and former Prime Minister Pak Bong Jo who oversaw the North’s efforts to adopt some free market mechanisms to revive the economy, would likely be key figures in the country’s collective leadership.
Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the ruling party and former nuclear envoy who is not close to the ruling Kim dynasty, and Foreign Minister Ri Sun Joon can take over diplomatic files, including stalled nuclear disarmament talks with the United States, as they played a key role when he met Kim Jong. En U.S. President Donald Trump.
Tae Yong Ho, the former deputy North Korean ambassador to London who defected to South Korea, said Kim Hong Chul, the older brother of the current North Korean leader, has no role in leading the country and living a quiet life in which he plays music.
It is believed that this brother is not interested in public life and is not likely to have any strong presence, although some analysts say he maintains links with his brothers and may play a more public role in the event of an emergency.
Kim Kyung-hui was once a influential figure in decision-making circles when her brother Kim Jong-il was in power. But she has not been seen in public since 2013, when the current leader executed her husband, Jang Song Thaik, who was considered the second most powerful man in North Korea at the time. Kim Kyung Hwi has been suffering from the disease for a long time, but appeared briefly early this year next to her nephew at a public ceremony.
The fourth generation
According to the South Korean intelligence service, Kim Jong-un is believed to have three children with his wife, Ri Sool Jo, the youngest of whom was born in 2017.
The eldest is ten years old, meaning that all of them will need help from their relatives and political guardians if one of them will one day become the fourth generation of the family in power.
Kim Jong-il had the opportunity to prepare him to rule for 20 years while Kim Jong-un had just over a year to prepare for his father’s sudden death from a heart attack.
“It’s not likely that Kim Yu-jung will take over, but she can help build a caretaker system as a power broker until the children grow up and Kim Jong-chul may return to help for some time,” said Jo Myung-hyun, a fellow at the Asian Institute of Political Studies in Seoul.