|Nork Economic' Reformer' Back as Prime Minister|
|A veteran technocrat who led North Korea's tentative economic reforms a decade ago has again become prime minister of the impoverished country. According to the official KCNA news agency on Monday, Pak Pong-ju's appointment was confirmed by the Supreme People's Assembly. |
Pak already served as prime minister from 2003 until 2007 with the backing of former leader Kim Jong-il. A government official here said it is rare for a figure with no blood ties to the ruling family to make a successful comeback. "Pak's life is like a movie," the official added.
Pak is a career technocrat and has held several key posts. He came to the leadership's attention when he was a secretary at a state-run chemical factory from 1983 to 1993 and was given a vice ministerial post overseeing light industry. In 1998, he was appointed minister for the chemicals industry, and in 2002 he visited South Korea with Jang as part of an economic delegation.
But things turned sour in 2005, when the open-air markets that were springing up across North Korea struck hardliners as one economic freedom too far. South Korean products began to appear in the markets, sparking fears of a full-scale invasion of capitalism.
But in August 2010 he was back as vice minister for light industry, his appointment coming just a month before
North Korea watchers doubt Pak will be as bold as in the past. Ryu Dong-ryeol of the Police Science Institute said, "There is a chance of limited and cautious reforms being announced, but Pak will play it safe because he won't want to get sacked again."
Some intelligence officials here even speculate that Pak is being set up as the fall guy for the North's dismal economic state.
|Who Runs N. Korea?|
|Last week's rocket launch by North Korea has once again focused international attention on the renegade country, especially the opaque clique that runs it. Besides the titular leader |
Jang was one of the two high-ranking officials who accompanied Kim on his visit to the control center last Wednesday ahead of the rocket launch. The other was Pak To-chun, the secretary for munitions in the Workers Party.
China rolled out the red carpet for Jang when he went on a six-day state visit to Beijing in August. Last month, Jang was appointed head of North Korea's Sports Guidance Commission, a position that has emerged as a new power base, and South Korean intelligence believe he has also gained control of the Guard Command, which handles security for Kim.
The source of Jang's influence is his wife Kim Kyong-hui, the sister of former leader Kim Jong-il, who is believed to have taken over the reins along with Jang and Kim Jong-il's wife Kim Ok when the former North Korean leader suffered a massive stroke in 2008. Kim Kyong-hui was also influential in the appointment of Kim Jong-un to succeed his father.
The South's National Intelligence Service told the National Assembly in July this year that Kim Kyong-hui (66) is Kim Jong-un's "advisor." Some pundits say Kim was a heavy drinker and is in poor health, and Jang's position would be in jeopardy without her.
The couple's legitimacy comes from the fact that they are members of the Kim family. "Nobody can tell what will happen to Jang Song-taek when Kim Kyong-hui dies or how that will affect Kim Jong-un," said one informed source. "Kim Jong-un's leadership may hinge on his aunt's health."
|Kimmie's Widow Had Treatment in Berlin|
|A woman presumed to be Kim Ok, the widow of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and new leader Kim Jong-un's stepmother, was treated in hospital in Berlin recently. According to a hospital staffer, she was treated for a cervical disc and coxitis of the right side at the German capital's Charite University Hospital in May and June.|
Kim stayed in a premier hotel in downtown Berlin after arriving in mid-May. She rode a Mercedes for trips between the hospital and the hotel, accompanied by a North Korean diplomat from Geneva as her interpreter. She is said to have paid cash.
Photos obtained by the Chosun Ilbo from a Korean expatriate living there last Friday show the woman sporting a coat and a pair of white sandals with a scarf around her neck. At Beijing Airport earlier she looked nondescript in black elastic pants.
Kim Ok had looked after Kim Jong-il since she was chosen for his "Pleasure Squad" in the 1980s. She lived with him since his previous wife Ko Yong-hui, Kim Jong-un's mother, died in 2004 and exercised some power from Kim senior's sickbed after he collapsed with a stroke in August 2008.
At the time, Kim Ok established a close relationship with Kim Jong-il's younger sister Kim Kyong-hui and her husband Jang Song-taek, who are now believed to be directing matters behind the scenes. "That apparently consolidated her status even after Kim Jong-il's death," an informed source said.
Meanwhile, several members of the North Korean elite including a woman believed to be Kim Baek-yon, regime founder Kim Il-sung's natural daughter, are also in Berlin for medical treatment. She has reportedly been treated for insomnia and anemia in a famous hospital since July, staying with her mother Kim Song-juk (50) in a luxury hotel in downtown Berlin. She has been spotted in the glitzy shopping mile of Friedrichstrasse there.
The North Korean elite often go for medical treatment abroad. Kim Kyong-hui had kidney surgery in Moscow in June last year.
|Pudgy's Uncle Visits Beijing|
Jang is expected to stay in China for six days and will meet top Chinese leaders including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. He will also likely meet Vice President Xi Jinping, tipped to become president at the upcoming Communist Party Congress in October.
"A delegation led by Jang left Pyongyang to attend the third session of the joint [North] Korea-China guidance committee on the development of special economic zones in Rajin-Sonbong and Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa Islands to be held in Beijing," the official KCNA news agency reported earlier that day.
A diplomatic source in Beijing said the North Korean delegation consists of some 50 members. Jang and Chinese Minister of Commerce Chen Deming meet on Tuesday. On Wednesday and Thursday, Jang is expected to visit economic zones in the booming southern Chinese provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, suggesting there is a heavy economic focus to the visit. He goes back to Beijing on Friday and returns to Pyongyang the following day.
Jang is in China for the first time since he accompanied Kim Jong-il on his last visit to China in May last year.
|Pudgy's Uncle Gains Control of N.Korea|
|North Korea is now firmly under the control of Jang Song-taek, the eminence grise behind 20-something leader |
"There'd be no reason for Kim Jong-un himself to dismantle after just seven months in office the support structure his father built for him," said Baek Seung-joo at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. "The shadow of Jang Song-taek looms large" over the young leader.
Jang, who is Kim Jong-un's uncle, seems to have been intent on getting rid of his rivals since 2010. His greatest rival Ri Je-gang, a one-time first deputy director of the Workers Party's powerful Organization and Guidance Department, died in a mysterious car accident in May 2010, just a few days before Jang was to be promoted. And early last year, spy chief Ryu Kyong, another apparent rival, was accused of treason following a visit to Seoul and was purged.
Instead, figures considered loyal to Jang now occupy key posts in the regime. New army chief Choe Ryong-hae, Mun Kyong-dok, the head of the party's Pyongyang chapter, Ri Yong-su, the head of the party's labor groups, Ambassador to China Ji Jae-ryong, and Sports Minister Pak Myong-chol -- all have been close to Jang for decades.
But some experts say there are natural limits to Jang's power. "In North Korea, only the Kim family is allowed to reign," said on intelligence source. "Jang's power will last only as long as his wife is alive."
|Ousted N.Korean Army Chief 'Defied Orders'|
|North Korea's Army chief Ri Yong-ho was apparently ousted for defying orders and moving troops near Pyongyang during a military exercise, South Korean intelligence said Thursday. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars were also discovered during a raid on his home. |
The troop move drew the ire of Ri's main rivals Jang Song-taek, the uncle and guardian of leader Kim Jong-un, and Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae. The discovery of the money apparently provided valuable evidence for Choe to accuse him of corruption.
North Korea's military elite controlled 70 percent of the country's businesses that brought in foreign currency under late leader Kim Jong-il and became a state within a state. But it lost control of those companies to the Workers Party after Kim Jong-un came to power, and Ri was apparently targeted for being at the heart of a group of disgruntled officers.
"Ri's uncooperative attitude included unilaterally repositioning the troops and expressing dissatisfaction over the transfer of control to the party of the North's businesses that generate foreign currency," the NIS added.
|Even Kimmie Couldn't Control Nork Army, Says Son|
|Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, has repeatedly said that even his father was unable to gain complete control over the North's powerful military. Kim Jong-nam, who was passed over as his father's successor, exchanged some 150 e-mails with Japanese journalist Yoji Komi.|
"North Korea experts say this can't be true, but Kim Jong-nam told me that whenever he had the chance," Komi told reporters Wednesday.
Komi said a key example was the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2011. He said the regime had just agreed to develop special economic zones in Rajin-Sonbong and Hwanggumpyong Island and really needed international investment, but the military insisted on the counterproductive attack.
Kim Jong-nam said even his uncle Jang Song-taek (62), who is often described as a kind of eminence grise of the regime, was unable to rein in the military. "That's why the Yeonpyeong Island incident happened," Komi quoted Kim Jong-nam as saying.
Komi said Kim Jong-un told him that the military had become a kind of state within the state and reports to no one.
|Kim Jong-nam: Nork Regime Won't Last Long|
|Former North Korean Leader Kim Jong-il's eldest son Jong-nam has said the isolated regime will eventually fail with or without reforms. |
Kim Jong-nam, who was passed over for the leadership in favor of his younger brother Kim Jong-un, expresses doubts about his brother's ability and the dynastic succession in general. "I'm concerned how Jong-un, who merely resembles my grandfather [former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung], will be able to satisfy the needs of North Koreans," he wrote. "
Kim also commented on North Korea's deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010. "It was a provocation by North Korea's military to justify their status and existence and the possession of nuclear weapons," he said.
When asked about his thoughts on the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan, Kim said, "From North Korea's perspective, there was a need to stress that the area surrounding [the five northernmost South Korean islands in the West Sea] is a war zone." He added, "That is how the songun (military first) doctrine and the development and possession of nuclear weapons are justified."
Kim said he fell out of favor with his father because of his insistence on reform. "After I went back to North Korea following my education in Switzerland, I grew further apart from my father because I insisted on reform and market-opening and was eventually viewed with suspicion," he recalled. "My father felt very lonely after sending me to study abroad. Then my half brothers Jong-chol and Jong-un and half sister Yeo-jong were born and his adoration was moved on to them. And when he felt that I'd turn into a capitalist after living abroad for years, he shortened the overseas education of my brothers and sister."
Asked about his relations with his aunt Kim Kyong-hui and uncle Jang Song-taek, who are the patrons of the new leader, he said, "I still have good relations with them and they are fond of me. They pay special attention to me."
Startlingly, Kim Jong-nam said he had never met the new North Korean leader. "I'm his half brother, but I've never met him so I don't know," he said. But he said he saw their middle brother Kim Jong-chol a few times overseas. "The Kim Jong-un regime will not last long," he said, expressing concerns about his brother's young age and utter lack of experience in government. He forecast a power struggle between different factions.
Kim warned, "Without reforms, North Korea will collapse, and when such changes take place, the regime will collapse." He added, "I think we will see valuable time lost as the regime sits idle fretting over whether it should pursue reforms or stick to the present political structure." Kim said the North's hardline stance stems from a political system bent on "survival" and added that Pyongyang will never give up its nuclear weapons.
Kim said he is being watched over by the Chinese government. "The Chinese government is protecting me, but it is also monitoring me too. It's my inevitable fate. If you can't avoid it, it's better to enjoy it." He said, "Because I was educated in the West, I was able to enjoy freedom from early age, and I still love being free. The reason I visit Macau so often is because it's the most free and liberal place near China, where my family lives."
Kim admits his playboy lifestyle. "I don't deny my philandering habits, but I have only one wife, and my wife is the person I love the most in the world." When he was arrested in Japan trying to enter on a false passport in 2001, "the woman who was holding the hand of my young son [Kum-sol] is my wife. The young woman with glasses next to her was my secretary," he said.
He said it was "common" for the North Korean elite at the time to travel abroad with forged passports, and "I went to Japan many times to go to famous hotels and restaurants in Tokyo. Jong-un also went to Japan with a fake Brazilian passport."
Because he loves to drink, he said he is suffering from gout and taking medication.
Asked about his son Han-sol, whom he had with a mistress in Macau and who became the center of a media storm in October 2011, Kim said, "He is adventurous, so he chose to go to an international school in Mostar in tension-filled Bosnia. I had to accept his choice, but I'm concerned now."
|Was Pudgy's 1st Tour a Warning to S. Korea?|
|Kim Jong-un's visit to a historically important armored division on New Year's Day can be interpreted as a warning to South Korea, pundits believe. When his father Kim Jong-il last visited the tank division on Jan. 5, 2010, North Korean state TV showed drills simulating an invasion of the South.|
Pundits also believe the visit to the unit, which is seen as the birthplace of the regime's disastrous "military-first" doctrine, was a message to both the domestic and international public that the policy will remain unchanged.
Others say the new leader wanted to proclaim to all and sundry that his regime is stable. An Unification Ministry official said, "It seems he is trying to dispel doubts surrounding his inexperience and lack of charisma."
Three out of the "gang of seven" who walked alongside Kim Jong-ilís hearse also accompanied Kim on Sunday -- Jang Song-taek, the vice chairman of the National Defense Committee and widely thought to be the power behind the throne, Ri Yong-ho, vice Chairman of the Workers Party's Central Military Commission, and Kim Jong-gak, the senior deputy director of the North Korean Army's General Political Bureau.
|Pyongyang Elite Key to Regime's Survival|
A high-profile North Korean defector said, "Pyongyang is a city of privileged people, and there is saying that only those who give orders live there, not those who actually work. Those 500,000 people will support the Kim family until the end." That is why some experts believe
The fact that he entrusted his brother-in-law Jang Song-taek, who is also Jong-un's patron, to build 100,000 housing units in Pyongyang shows how much Kim cared about the capital. Out of 50,000 tons of food aid from Russia in August, 40,000 tons are said to have been distributed to Pyongyang residents.
A South Korean government official said, "Although North Korea is begging for food around the world, it's liberally spending money on Pyongyang to consolidate the elite." The Kim Dynasty seems to have learned a lesson from the popular uprisings in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, where small scale riots from provinces snowballed on a massive scale in the capital.
|Who Is the Mystery Woman with Fat Boy?|
|A young woman spotted near new North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during his father's funeral has drawn international press attention. In a scene from the funeral broadcast by North Korean state TV on Wednesday night, Kim Jong-un is shown paying his last respects to Kim Jong-il flanked by 20 to 30 high-ranking officials at Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang.|
A woman who appears to be in her 20s can be seen standing among the entourage in addition to his aunt Kim Kyong-hui (65), and his sister Kim Yeo-jong (24). She is tall, has long hair and a youthful countenance.
She can also be seen confidently walking past Kim Jong-un's uncle Jang Song-taek as he enters the palace, giving rise to speculation that she is Kim Jong-un's wife.
Rumors began circulating last year that Kim had married a woman who graduated from the prestigious Kim Il-sung University. But others suggest she is his secretary. In North Korea, personal secretaries to the leader are believed to wield considerable power. This would explain why she walked so freely past Jang, who is believed to be the power behind the throne. Kim Jong-il's fourth wife Kim Ok used to be his secretary.
|Purges Ensure Pudgy's Succession|
|A series of executions and unexplained deaths since North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's son Jong-un was anointed heir to the throne in January 2009 were apparently meant to remove obstacles to the transition. Kim senior instituted several bloody purges to ensure his iron grip on power since he officially took over from his own father in 1994.|
The most prominent example is perhaps the death of Ri Je-gang, a former senior deputy director of the Organization and Guidance Department and a close aide to Kim Jong-il who oversaw key military appointments for more than two decades. Ri was a bitter rival of Jang Song-taek, Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law and guardian to Jong-un, and was killed in a mysterious car crash in late May 2010, just a few days before Jang was promoted to vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, the North's highest leadership organ.
Ri Yong-chol, the second-in-command at the Organization and Guidance Department, also died of
Economic officials have also purged. Pak Nam-gi, director of the Planning and Finance Department in the Workers Party, and Moon Il-bong, head of finance, were executed by firing squad in April and June last year. Hong Sok-hyong, who succeeded Pak, was relieved of all of his duties in June and his whereabouts are unknown. Ex-minister of railways Kim Yong-sam was executed in June of last year after being linked to a massive explosion in Ryongchon in 2004 that is believed to have been a botched attack on Kim Jong-il's armored train.
Key intelligence and public security officials have also disappeared while the succession was being assured. Ryu Kyong, the deputy director of the State Security Department, was shot early this year as he was considered a rival to Jang. Ju Sang-song, the minister of People's Security, was fired in March of this year. "Those considered as obstacles to Kim Jong-un are being removed," a source said. "Another bloody purge is likely after the period of mourning for Kim Jong-il ends."
The crosshairs are expected to be aimed at elderly military and party officials who could consider Kim Jong-un a lightweight.
The North's espionage operations against South Korea, which O had headed over the past 20 years, are now headed by Kim Yong-chol, who has emerged as a key aide to Kim Jong-un. Secretaries to Kim Jong-il and other elderly party officials also represent obstacles to Kim Jong-un. Kim Jong-il in turn got rid of his own father's secretaries when he took over.
There are views that Kim Jong-un's "reign of terror" has already begun. According to a government source, there were 60 public executions in North Korea last year, a three-fold increase from 2009. The North Korean government set up special riot police in each part of the country.
A year after Kim Jong-il was appointed North Korea's top military commander, in October 1992, he purged 20 military officers who were educated in the Soviet Union and had gained control of the North's troops. In April 1995, just after his father's death, he executed hundreds of soldiers when suspicious developments in the Sixth Army Corps stationed in North Hamgyong Province were detected. In 1997, when millions of North Koreans were starving to death, Kim Jong-il executed his then agriculture secretary So Kwan-hui in Pyongyang after accusing him of being a U.S. spy.