North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on Tuesday appointed his younger sister Kim Kyong-hui (64), his only sibling from the same mother, a four-star Army general alongside his son and heir Jong-un. In June, Kim already promoted his sister's husband Jang Song-taek (64) to vice chairman of the top decision-making body National Defense Commission.
The leader's current senior consort Kim Ok accompanied him on two visits to China this year, suggesting she too has cemented her position in the ruling clique.
◆ Protecting Kim Junior
It appears that Kim Jong-il has established a troika of family members he trusts most as a protective shield around Jong-un, who is only in his 20s, a South Korean security official said. "The Kim Kyong-hui-Jang couple will highly likely wield the real power during the transition period," he added.
Ryu Dong-ryeol of the Police Science Institute, said Jang has many supporters in the military due to personal connections established by his two older brothers, vice marshal Jang Song-u, who died in 2009, Maj. Gen. Jang Song-gil, who died in 2006.
According to a North Korean source, rumor has it that when Kim Jong-il had a stroke in August 2008, Kim Kyong-hui, Jang Song-taek, Kim Ok and other close family members virtually ruled the reclusive country from his bedside.
◆ Kim's Sister Rehabilitated
Kim Kyong-hui went through a period of obscurity after the Supreme People's Assembly convened in September 2003 and reportedly suffered from alcoholism due to a series of personal misfortunes including discord with her husband and the suicide of her daughter Jang Kum-song in 2006. She is also said to have been treated for depression. But she resurfaced in June 2009, when she accompanied Kim Jong-il on the inspection of a farm and has now been promoted to the North's first female general.
The source said putting Kim Kyong-hui into a prominent position is a kind of signal that the members of the "Mt. Baekdu lineage," as Kim Il-sung's direct descendants are known, are fully behind Kim Jong-un.
In 1949, when Kim Jong-il was seven and Kyong-hui three, their mother Kim Jong-suk died in childbirth, and they have supported each other since then, facing down their stepmother Kim Song-ae when she challenged for the succession to Kim Il-sung.
◆ Brother-in-Law as Regent
When Kim Jong-il had his stroke in 2008, Jang Song-taek played a key role in dealing with the emergency. In late 2007, he had become director of the Workers Party's Administration Department, which supervises public security and judicial agencies. Currently, he leads a flagship modernization project for Pyongyang. There is speculation that the beautification of the capital is to be credited to Kim Jong-un.
"If Kim Jong-il dies early, Jang Song-taek could become a regent" carrying out day-to-day government business on behalf of the young heir, a South Korean government official speculated. He added if Kim junior fails to secure his hold on power after his father's death, Jang, who has many supporters, could seize power for himself.
Kim Ok, who stays close to Kim Jong-il round the clock, is also becoming increasingly powerful and, according to a former senior North Korean official who defected to the South recently, "even scolds or gives orders to senior officials."