While North Korea watchers ponder the whereabouts of Kim Jong Un’s former right-hand man, speculation has emerged that he, and Jang Song Thaek, may have been alienated from the young leader in late November to legitimize the so-called “lineage of Paektu.”
Looking back, a transitory event may have taken place on November 30 – in the absence of both Choe Ryong Hae and Jang.
On that day, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un traveled to Samjiyon lake on Mount Paektu, bordering China, with eight aides who have apparently become his new core group of close confidants.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on that day reported that Kim made a pilgrimage to the Samjiyon Revolutionary Battle Site, a sacred place where his grandfather and national founder Kim Il Sung is said to have led struggles against Japan’s occupation and colonization of Korea until the 1945 liberation.
The timing of Kim Jong Un’s visit to this revered site was crucial. For one thing, his uncle Jang Song Thaek’s two close confidants – Ri Ryong Ha and Jang Su Gil – were publicly executed in late November, possibly right before this Nov. 30 visit.
Also, Jang was purged at the enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Korean Worker’s Party (KWP) on December 8, just one week after the visit.
The Rodong Sinmun on December 11 published an editorial entitled “Long Shine the Rigorous March of Samjiyon.”
“It was an eruption of his determination of steel to continue the march of the Korean revolution and a terrifying iron hammer on those who betrayed the revolution,” it said of Kim’s visit to Samjiyon near Mount Baektu, Thus, it is strongly suggested that Kim made the final decision to purge his uncle in visiting this sacred spot.
THE LINEAGE OF PAEKTU
Kim has aimed to instill the so-called “lineage of Paektu,” the royal bloodline of the Kim family, in his surroundings for the past months.
The KCNA on November 30 reported that Kim noted that this visit offered “an opportunity to harden the determination and will to accomplish the revolutionary cause of Juche started at Mt. Paektu.”
The North’s media again stressed this lineage on December 13, the day after Jang’s execution.
“No matter how much water flows under the bridge and no matter how frequently a generation is replaced by new one, the lineage of Paektu will remain unchanged and irreplaceable,” the KNCA said.
“Amid a series of purges, Kim Jong Un is trying to take over the deification of Kim Il Sung by appealing to the lineage of Paektu,” Hideshi Takesada, an expert on regional security at Takushoku University in Tokyo, told NK News on Friday. “He is intentionally trying to give the public the clean image of an ancient and honorable origin.”
THE NEW CORE
So, who are the members of this new inner circle from which Jang and, apparently, Choe have been excluded?
Minister of State Security Kim Won Hong was among the top aides who accompanied Kim to the Samjiyon Revolutionary Battle Site at this crucial time.
The rest were assorted officers within the Worker’s Party of Korea: Secretary and Director of the United Front Department Kim Yang Gon; Director of the Finance and Accounting Department Han Kwang Sang; Organization Guidance Department Deputy Director Pak Thae Song; Deputy Director of the Organization Guidance Department Hwang Pyong So; Deputy Director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department Kim Pyong Ho; Deputy Director of the Machine-Building Industry Department Hong Yong Chil; and Deputy Director (with Capital Construction Portfolio) Ma Won Chun.
“What I was interested in was that Choe Ryong Hae did not join the visit to the Samjiyon Revolutionary Battle Site, although he came very near there,” Hisashi Hirai, a veteran reporter with Japan’s Kyodo News, said in a seminar on North Korean affairs at Keio University on February 27. “He was ordered to go back.”
“Should the Kim Jong Un regime continue for years, those eight aides of Kim Jong Un would be long noted,” Hirai said. “They were together when they had the final meetings to decide Jang’s execution. The visit itself would be regarded as a revolutionary event.”
Hirai, an experienced North Korea watcher, also said he is focusing on those figures who on December 8 attended the expanded KWP Political Bureau meeting, at which Jang Song Taek was removed from office and sat on the podium of the stage together with Kim Jong Un.
Excluding Kim Jong Un and Choe Ryong Hae, those figures were Pak To Chun, Kim Ki Nam, DPRK Premier Pak Pong Ju, Kim Yong Nam Supreme People’s Assembly Presidium President), Kim Won Hong, Choe Thae Bok, Kim Yang Gon, Jo Yon Jun, Kwak Pom Ki, Kim Yong Il, Kim Pyong Hae, Mun Kyong Dok and Kim Kyong Ok.
Hirai said those 19 people who accompanied Kim Jong Un to the Samjiyon Revolutionary Battle Site and/or who sat on the podium of the stage might have played the leading role in Jang’s execution.
Among them, Kim Won Hong and Kim Yang Gon overlap.
Hirai also pointed out that one of the main characteristics of the Kim Jong Un regime is that it centers around the party’s expanded superiority over the military, a shift from his father Kim Jong Il’s Songun (military-first) political system.
Masao Okonogi, a leading expert on Korean affairs and professor emeritus in law at Keio University in Tokyo, said in the same seminar at Keio that Kim Jong Un is probably aiming at establishing his own new regime until the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Worker’s Party of Korea in October 2015.
Okonogi said those who visited the Samjiyon Revolutionary Battle Site on November 30 and who sat on the podium of the stage on December 8 will highly likely support the Kim Jong Un regime in the meantime.
Top photo: Rodong Sinmun
Photo of Kim and aides: Rodong Sinmun
Bottom photo: KCTV screen grab
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