In recent TV scenes and photos, Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has appeared laidback and inattentive when the dynastic ruler is nearby, in what observers say highlights his recently emboldened status.
Broadcast by the North’s Korean Central Television Tuesday, some scenes of the ruling Workers’ Party’s high-level meeting show Jang fidgety and bored during Kim’s speech while other participants sat upright respectfully.
“The scenes speak volumes about how much clout he wields as Kim’s guardian. Other high-level officials such as General Staff Chief Hyon Yong-chol dare not pose like that during a meeting presided over by the leader,” said Ahn Chan-il, director of the World North Korea Research Center.
|Jang Song-thaek (right), the uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (left), looks inattentive and bored during the country’s ruling Worker’s Party’s high-level meeting on Monday. (Yonhap News)|
“Jang was also seen wearing the same suit while riding a horse with Kim last year. That is something unimaginable during Kim Jong-il’s era. I will put it this way ― Jang is the producer of a drama while Kim and first lady Lee Sol-ju are its protagonists.”
Jang, the vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, is the husband of late former ruler Kim Jong-il’s younger sister Kim Kyong-hui. He has been regarded as the most influential mentor for the fledgling leader, who was thrust into politics with only a few years of grooming following his father’s demise in December 2011.
Compared with other elites, Jang’s power is unparalleled. As the director of the ruling party’s administration, he heads the Ministry of State Security, the North’s top intelligence agency, and the Ministry of People’s Security, which is imilar to Seoul’s National Policy Agency.
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.
Made a four-star general a few days after Kim Jong-il’s death, Jang also holds considerable influence over the North’s military. Since 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.
Some observers said that Kim Jong-un might not be able to disregard Jang callously as one of his subordinates since had grown up respecting his uncle before he was tapped as successor.
Kim’s two brothers were initially mentioned as third-generation successors, but fell out of their father’s favor later due to their lack of leadership requirements.
Some question Jang’s political influence, stressing that the dynastic ruling system emphasizes a political pedigree as a prerequisite for a national leader. The seemingly waning health of Jang’s wife Kim Kyong-hui has also raised the question of whether her possible absence would undermine Jang’s political legitimacy.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com)