May 11, 2010 12:57
Jang Song-taek, the administration director of the North Korean Workers' Party, seems firmly established as a powerful éminence grise in the North Korean regime, a status confirmed during Kim's recent China trip. Jang, who is Kim's brother in law, was seated closer to the leader than his nominal rank warrants during official events on the trip, including a welcoming banquet hosted by Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Images of the banquet aired by China's state-run CCTV on Friday show Kim and Hu are sitting at the seats of honor at a round table, flanked by officials from both sides according to their ranks. Jang was seated in third place, right after Kim Yong-chun, the minister of the People's Armed Forces and above First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju, Workers' Party Secretary Choe Tae-bok and Kim Ki-nam, secretary of the Workers' Party Central Committee.
Still further down were Kim Yong-il, the apparatchik in charge of international affairs, Kim Yang-gon, the director of the United Front Department, Ju Kyu-chang, the first vice-director of the Ministry of Defense Industry, Tae Jong-su, Workers' Party secretary for South Hamgyong Province and Choe Byong-gwan, North Korea's ambassador to China.
Jang was seated next to Kim Yong-chun at a meeting the following day between the North Korean leader and Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress.
A Foreign Ministry official said seating arrangements at summits follow close consultations between both countries. "It's customary for visiting officials to accept the seating arrangements prepared by the host country." That means China regards Jang as North Korea's third-highest official after Kim Jong-il and Kim Yong-chun and North Korea agrees.
In North Korea, an administration director ranks lower than a party secretary. The North Korean media duly list Jang after Choe Tae-bok and Kim Ki-nam when identifying members of the North Korean leader's entourage, which was also the case in reports about Kim's visit to China. But the seating arrangements at the banquet last Wednesday "demonstrate the difficulty in explaining North Korea's power structure simply by rank," according to Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University.
A person's influence in relations with China and his ties with the North Korean leader are the decisive factors in determining status.
Ryu Dong-ryeol, a researcher at the Police Science Institute, said, "An administration director ranks lower than a party secretary, but the directorship is a powerful position in charge of security and the execution of laws." He added China may also have taken into consideration that Jang is a member of the powerful National Defense Committee."
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