Who Is with Kim Jong-il on His China Trip?

      May 04, 2010 12:15

      North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's arrival in China on Monday aboard his armored train has put the spotlight on his entourage, with rumor saying his even more reclusive son and heir apparent may be by his side. A South Korean government official said there is a "slim chance" that Kim junior is among the party.

      Another reason for the interest is that observers hope to gain an insight into the secretive regime's aims by looking at the senior figures who accompany Kim.

      Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University, said, "North Korea's main interest is in economic assistance from China, and China's top priority is to set a date for North Korea's return to the six-party talks and reaffirm its willingness to scrap its nuclear weapons." He said if Kim Jong-un accompanies his father under these circumstances, the focus of the visit to China becomes less clear."

      Kim Yong-chun, the North Korean minister of the People's Armed Forces, is seen along with the communist regime's leader Kim Jong-il in this screen-grab of NHK. /Courtesy of NHK

      But Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korea watcher at Korea University, said, "For the North, China is the most important country in the world. Kim Jong-il may have taken Kim Jong-un with him to teach him a lesson in handling China." Some experts say Kim Jong-il felt the need to widen the scope of Jong-un's leadership training, which has so far been limited to domestic affairs. "Kim Jong-un may have joined the entourage to gain diplomatic experience," said Chung Young-tae, head of North Korea research at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

      But even if the son came along, experts agree that Kim senior is unlikely to introduce him to Chinese officials as the official heir to the North's throne. "Kim Jong-il knows that the Chinese frown on hereditary transfers of power," Chung said. "If Jong-un accompanies his father, it's probably as part of the retinue."

      Images of Kim's entourage captured in front of a hotel in Dalian by Japanese broadcaster NHK on Monday show Workers Party Secretary Choe Tae-bok and Kim Yang-gon, the head of the party’s propaganda operations. Kim Yang-gon has extensive connections in China and accompanied the North Korean leader on his first and second trips to China.

      Kim Yang-gon, the North Korean director of the United Front Department, accompanies the North's leader Kim Jong-il in China in this screen-grab of NHK. /Courtesy of NHK

      Kang Sok-ju, first vice foreign minister, is also widely believed to be among the entourage. Kang, who is in charge of North Korea's relations with the U.S. and is orchestrating the North's strategy at the six-party nuclear talks, accompanied Kim Jong-il on three out of his four trips to China. Pyongyang's return to the stalled six-party talks is believed to be top of the agenda in talks between the two allies.

      Kim Yong-il, the apparatchik in charge of international affairs and an old China hand, is also apparently among the entourage. There is also the possibility that premier of the North Korean cabinet Kim Young-il or vice premier Roh Doo-chul may also be part of the entourage instead of the party’s planning and finance director Pak Nam-gi, who has apparently been sacked.

      Jon Il-chun, the head of North Korea's state development bank in charge of attracting foreign investment and the chief manager of Kim Jong-il's slush fund, is also believed to be part of the entourage.

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