Fate of Jang’s wife hangs in balance

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Fate of Jang’s wife hangs in balance


With the ouster of Jang Song-thaek, the powerful uncle of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, all eyes are on his only remaining guardian, Kim Kyong-hui, the young strongman’s aunt and Jang’s wife.

Right now it remains to be seen whether the younger sister of the late Kim Jong-il will surface as the sole power broker behind the throne or take the fall with her disgraced husband.

According to a report by the regime’s official Korean Central Television, Kim Kyong-hui appeared to be absent Sunday at the Political Bureau meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party, during which party members decided to expel Jang from the party on charges of “anti-party, anti-revolutionary activities.”

The 67-year-old aunt of Kim Jong-un is currently a party secretary, but whether she is safe in the aftermath of the dismissal of her husband is still unknown.

North Korea is expected to hold the central mourning meeting on Dec. 16, to commemorate the second anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il. Like last year, the ruling party, the cabinet and the military are scheduled to participate. On that day, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is expected to pay his respects at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.

The South Korean government is closely watching whether Kim’s aunt will appear at the meeting, resuming public activities in the political arena.

Despite social-class boundaries, Kim Kyong-hui insisted on marrying Jang, an ordinary student at Kim Il Sung University, where the two met. They were able to overcome initial objections from her father, Kim Il Sung, and married in 1972. After the death of Kim Jong-il, she and Jang surfaced as the powerful guardians of young untested leader Kim Jong-un.

While some analysts speculate she could be edged out of North Korea’s innermost political circle with her husband, others claim that she could reemerge as her nephew’s sole protector. Rumors have also circulated about the whereabouts of the first lady, Ri Sol-ju, who has not shown up in public for the past two months.

Ri, a former member of the regime’s Unhasu Orchestra, stopped attending public events for a month after allegations spread in August that she was involved in the illicit production of pornography with several other orchestra members. Those members were reportedly executed.

If Kim Kyong-hui steps down, two biological siblings of Kim Jong-un - Kim Jong-chol, his older brother, and Kim Yo-jong, a younger sister - could surface as fresh power, said Lee Yun-keol, a defector-turned-analyst.

“Kim Jong-chol played a key role in the purge of Jang, directing the leader’s body guards and spy agents, armed with a gun,” he said.

The leader’s half-sister, Kim Sol-song, is also a possible candidate to be a new power broker. She is the daughter of former leader Kim Jong-il and his first wife, Kim Yong-suk. Praised by her father, she reportedly worked at several key organizations, including the ruling party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department.

Lawmaker Hong Ihk-pyo, of South Korea’s Democratic Party, claimed at a seminar on Wednesday that Kim Sol-song was the one who spearheaded Jang’s ouster, after assuming a critical post in the Propaganda and Agitation Department. Hong speculated she could be a rising power in North Korea’s inner-circle. Meanwhile, speculation continues to spread in South Korea on the exact reason for Jang’s dismissal. A South Korean government official told the JoongAng Ilbo that a senior party director played a crucial role in kicking him out of the party.

“On Sept. 9, when North Korea marked the anniversary of the foundation of the state, Kim Jong-un had a family meeting, excluding his aunt and uncle - Kim Kyong-hui and Jang,” the official said. “At the family meeting, the leader summoned Jo Yon-jun, the first deputy director of the ruling party’s Organization and Guidance Department, to attend the meeting, and the two reportedly discussed how to stabilize his rule in coming years.”

“From a source that I obtained from an official at North Korea’s spy agency through a channel in China, Jo was involved in the plan to dismiss Jang,” the official added.

BY JEONG WON-YEOB, KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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