The aunt of Kim Jong Un, not seen in public since September last year, was featured in a documentary broadcast on KCNA on Sunday, hinting that she remains a member in good standing in the nation’s elite.
Kim Kyong Hui, sister and confidant of the late leader Kim Jong Il during his time in power in North Korea, has been little seen in public over the past two years, reportedly due to health problems. She has not been seen at all since her nephew Kim Jong Un, the son of Kim Jong Il, ordered the purging of her husband, Jang Song Thaek, last December. Rumors have swirled in the meantime, saying that she had gone to Switzerland to seek medical care, that she went to Poland, or even that she had committed suicide after her husband’s purge.
This year Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, has reportedly emerged in an advising role similar to what Kim Kyong Hui played under the previous leader, and may even be handling his affairs during his current absence from public view.
Kim Kyong Hui makes a brief appearance in the documentary, which concerns Kim Jong Un’s efforts at sports promotion. It was a re-airing, having previously been shown April 29.
Even so, its presence may provide an indication of her ongoing role in the state.
“I’ve heard tell that Kim Kyong Hui is still involved in providing advice and assistance to her nephew,” said Mike Madden of North Korea Leadership Watch. “She was doing so from abroad during late 2013 and early 2014.”
There have never been any statements indicating that she was removed from her previous positions, such as secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea or a member of the Political Bureau, “so her appearance in the film is probably a subtle hint that Madame Kim not only remains a part of the power center but is currently active, at the present time,” Madden said.
Kim Kyong Hui, Madden noted, is the last of regime founder Kim Il Sung’s “legitimate” children, and that all three senior officials who traveled to South Korea for the conclusion of the Asian Games in Incheon had ties to her.
“These brief appearances might be tied to a larger effort in DPRK state media during the last week to implicitly deny that (the Organization and Guidance Department) has taken control or that a coup is unfolding,” he said. “Part of this would include using imagery of Kim Kyong Hui in a documentary film on state television.
Madden also noted that the state-run Korean Central News Agency has begun using the phrase “under the guidance” of Kim Jong Un, particularly regarding North Korean participants in the Asian Games, which suggests his continued involvement.
Chris Green of the Daily NK, though, noted that the focus of the documentary was Kim Jong Un, not his aunt, whose appearance in it is brief. Thus, he said the purpose was to maintain his public presence despite his month-long absence from the public eye, not hers.
“I hardly think that at a time of stress like this, they would think, ‘Well, it must be time to remind people about Kim Kyung Hui,’” he said.
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