Wonsan and Kim Jong-unNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-un has a secret about his birth that he is not willing to make public. His mother Ko Yeong-hee was born in Osaka, Japan and was repatriated to North Korea. Her father, Ko Gyeong-taek was originally from Jeju before settling in Japan, and the family moved to North Korea in the early 1960s. Based on the agreement between Pyongyang and Tokyo, the repatriation program began in December 1959, and a total of 88,000 ethnic Korean residents in Japan moved to North Korea. Upon arrival in the North, they were persecuted among local residents, called “jjaepo” disparagingly.
Perhaps because the background would not help Kim’s reputation, the North Korean authorities advocate Ko Yeong-hee as “Mother of Pyongyang” and try to conceal the real history of Ko from the North Korean people.
If a regional moniker is necessary, Ko should be rather called “Mother of Wonsan.” The repatriation ship, Mangyongbong-92, sailed between the port of Niigata in Japan and the port of Wonsan in the North.
The Korean intelligence agency is closely examining the rumor that Kim Jong-un was born in Wonsan because of the regional connection between Ko and Wonsan. Ko met Kim Jong-il when she was a dancer at Mansudae Art Troupe. She had been Kim’s consort for 28 years until she died of breast cancer in May 2004. She had two sons and a daughter with Kim and practically served as Kim’s wife. Intelligence specialists say that Ko gave birth to Kim Jong-un at her exclusive villa in Wonsan.
Of course, North Korea officially maintains that Kim Jong-un was born in Gangdong-gun, Pyongyang. The authorities are reportedly building a birth site to honor him as an idol. Kim Jong-il was born in the barracks of Vyatskoye in the Soviet Union, but the story of his birth was fabricated so that Kim is propagated as the “General of Mount Paektu.” So Pyongyang is likely to come up with another birth myth for Kim Jong-un, and it will surely include a moving story about Ko Yeong-hee.
Kim Jong-un may feel sympathetic towards Wonsan and his late mother, who lived as a hidden consort of the leader, and still hold memories from his childhood dearly. That may be why lately Kim started to pay special attention to Wonsan. When he called the Workers Party politburo meeting in February 11, he adopted a 10-clause resolution. It included an order to make Wonsan a world-class resort town. It was mentioned before the development or long-range missiles, so the party executives are paying extra attention to the area.
Korean military authorities have detected that major units of the North Korea Army, Navy and Air Force are gathering in Wonsan this week. It is expected that North Korea would stage a large-scale armed protest in response to the joint U.S.-South Korean military drill that began on March 1. Following the nuclear and missile provocation, Pyongyang is eager to elevate the crisis level in the Korean Peninsula.
It does not make sense that Pyongyang is planning a military drill at the site that Kim Jong-un picked for a world-class resort town. It is absurd to threaten to fire a nuclear bomb at Washington while trying to attract Western tourists. It is just as peculiar to have his command mention a “sea of fire in Seoul” while emphasizing the “Korean people.” We’ve had enough of the 29-year-old leader playing Army.
The author is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.