Jang Song-taek, the uncle and patron of new North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, appeared on state TV on Sunday dressed in full military uniform for the first time. Until now, Jang had only been spotted in a suit and tie.
Korean Central TV broadcast footage of Kim Jong-un and Jang paying their respects to dead leader Kim Jong-il, who lies in state at Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang. Jang's insignia confirm his military status as a four-star general in addition to his existing titles of vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, member of the Workers Party's Central Military Commission and director of the party's Administration Department. Some experts believe this suggests that he is serving as the regent overseeing Kim Jong-un's fledgling regime.
◆ 'Military First' Doctrine Holds
In a front-page editorial on Thursday, the official Rodong Sinmun daily announced the leadership of Kim Jong-un and used the term "songun" or military-first doctrine 21 times. A source said, "The royal family consisting of Kim Jong-un, Jang and his wife Kim Kyong-hui all became generals demonstrating their will to continue Kim Jong-il's songun doctrine."
Kim Jong-un and Kim Kyong-hui (65), who is the head of the Workers Party's Light Industry Department and member of the Politburo, were both awarded the title of four-star general during a party congress in September last year.
When Kim Kyong-hui became the first female general in North Korea's military, front-line troops apparently scoffed at the promotion saying they had become "grandma's army." But there are no records showing Jang receiving his rank of general. "It appears that Jang was made a general when he was promoted to vice chairman of the National Defense Commission in June last year or was given the rank in a hurry to fill up the power vacuum created by Kim Jong-il's death," an intelligence source said.
It is apparently quite common in North Korea for individuals to be awarded military ranks even if they have never been soldiers, as long as they are in charge of munitions, public security or intelligence operations. The late Hwang Jang-yop, former secretary of the Workers Party who was the highest-ranking North Korean official to defect to South Korea, once said, "I had a chance to go the Soviet Union with Jon Byong-ho," who was in charge of munitions affairs in the party in the 1970s and is now director of the Politburo, "and was surprised to see a civilian in a military uniform with a lieutenant general's insignia. It looked like every member of the National Defense Commission was given a military rank."
◆ Jang and His Wife Rise in Status
Kim Kyong-hui was 14th on the list of Kim Jong-il's funeral committee released last Monday, and Jang 19th. But Kim Kyong-hui was fifth in line among officials paying their respects to Kim's body on Tuesday and Friday, while Jang stood next to Ri Yong-ho to the right of Kim Jong-un. This shows the rise in status of Jang and his wife since Kim Jong-il's death.
Ryu Dong-ryeol, a North Korea expert at the Police Policy Research Institute, said, "If Kim Jong-un is promoted to chairman of the party's Central Military Commission [from his current post as vice chairman], it looks like Jang will be promoted to first vice chairman." The Central Military Commission is now believed to be the regime's most powerful organization.
But other experts believe Jang will not be able to rise far enough to challenge Kim Jong-un. Chung Sung-jang of the Sejong Institute said, "Kim Jong-un will play a central role in the process of power succession, while his uncle Jang Song-thaek has been awarded proper titles."
They say Jang was made a four-star general since his subordinate and Workers Party secretary Choe Ryong-hae and his wife were both already promoted to generals last year.