North Korea’s Jang Song-thaek has enjoyed much international attention since he became the lynchpin of national leader Kim Jong-un’s inner circle following the death of Kim Jong-il in December.
The fledgling ruler’s powerful uncle is now in China to attract economic aid to shore up the North’s debilitated economy. The scale of his entourage and the treatment he receives in Beijing speak volumes of how much clout he wields in the reclusive state.
His trajectory of success began in the early 1970s when he tied the knot with the late national founder Kim Il-sung’s daughter Kyong-hui. His status has since risen as the national founder’s son-in-law, ruler’s brother-in-law and currently leader’s uncle.
Jang Song-thaek: Vice chairman of North Korea’s National Defense Commission. (Xinhua News)
Jang, 66, currently serves as vice chairman of the National Defense Commission and director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s administration, controlling police and other key internal security affairs, and core diplomatic and economic matters.
Made a four-star general a few days after Kim Jong-il’s death, Jang also holds considerable influence over the 1.19-million-strong military. After the conservative army commander Ri Yong-ho was sacked in July, his close aide Choe Ryong-hae, director of the General Political Bureau, has become the nucleus of the top military echelon.
Along with his wife, Jang is seen as the most influential adviser to the 20-something leader. Some call him Kim’s regent, a claim others dismiss as inconceivable in a country that honors the dynastic pedigree as a critical leadership value.
Whichever claim is true, how he guides his nephew could determine the future of the country ― whether it can shed its status as an international pariah and lift its people out of poverty or remain under international isolation with the pursuit of nuclear arms.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org