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Leadership Succession - 2004 Developments

In 2004 the United States appeared to have embarked on a campaign of "soft regime transformation" -- attempting to weaken the regime from within by highlighting any signs of unusual developments in North Korea as indicative of impending regime collapse. Thus it is difficult to know how much of what is currently reported is hard fact, and how much is malicious disinformation spawned by the US government.

Kim Jong-Il's younger sister, Kim Kyong Hui [Kim Kyung-hee], helped head the ruling Workers' Party. Kim Jong-Il is reportedly very close with both his sister and her 34-year-old son, raising speculation about his potential role as leader of the moribund nation. Kim Kyong Hui's adopted son Kim Jang-hyun -- born to Leader Kim Il-sung by a mistress -- was rumored to be using his blood lineage to contest the succession with Kim Jong-il's sons. One rumor claimed that Kim Jang-hyun had a palace shootout with either Kim Jong-chol, son of Kim Jong-il's chief consort, Ko Yong-hui.

Kim Kyong Hui is married to Chang Sung-taek [Jang Song Taek], who until he was purged in 2004 was vice director of the ruling Korean Workers Party's organization and guidance department. Reports of Chang's downfall first surfaced in March 2004. Jang Song-thaek was reportedly purged after he tried to build up a military faction to put his own son in power. There are reports that Chang and Kim Kyung-hee parted ways following Chang's purge. Chang was also known to have close ties with Kim Jong-il's disgraced first son Kim Jong Nam, and his downfall was widely viewed as part of a power struggle for succession.

South Korean intelligence officials testified to the ROK legislature on 25 November 2004 that Kim Jong Il had placed his brother-in-law Chang Sung-taek under house arrest. Chang Sung Taek, the 58-year-old husband of Kim's younger sister, Kim Kyong Hee, was considered one of the most influential aides to the North Korean leader. He had controlled personnel matters in the ruling Workers' Party, and his two brothers held top jobs in the military. Chang was a potential stumbling block if Kim started transferring power to one of his three sons. Chang's downfall may have begun in 2003, after Hwang Jang Yop, the highest-ranking North Korean to defect [the former secretary of the North Korean Workers Party], publicly noted that Chang might be installed in Kim's place in the event of a coup d'tat (Chang is also a relative of Mr. Hwang).

Dozens of Jang's aides and relatives were purged or demoted. Jang's eldest brother, Jang Song-u, was a KPA vice marshal and commanded the Third Army Corps which surrounds the city of Pyongyang. The second-oldest brother, Jang Song-yop, was the vice director of the Kim Il-sung Higher Party School. A younger brother, Jang Song-Gil, was a lieutenant general and tank commander, while the youngest, Jang Song-ho, was a political vice president of the Mangyongdae Revolutionary School. The exact fate of these other family members was unclear as of early 2005. As many as 80 top officials and their family members were reportedly sent to North Korea's Gulag in the largest purge in a decade.

Some reports claimed that some mystery surrounded the fate of Vice-Marshal Jo Myong Rok [Jo Myong-roke]. As the special envoy of Chairman Kim Jong Il of the DPRK National Defense Commission, the First Vice Chairman, Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok, visited the United States of America from 9-12 October 2000. During his visit, Special Envoy Jo Myong Rok delivered a letter from National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong Il, as well as his views on US-DPRK relations, directly to US President William Clinton. Some had speculated that the Vice Marshal was involved in the Chang Sung-taek plot. But on 04 February 2005: Kim Jong Il was reported by KCNA to ahve met participants in the Meeting for the General March of the Songun Revolution, who included senior party, state and army officials, to include Jo Myong Rok.

Chairman Kim Jong-il paid an unofficial visit to China from April 19 to 21, 2004 at the invitation of Chinese President and General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Hu Jintao. North Korea provided, through various media, relatively prompt and detailed accounts of the train blast at Ryongchon Station in North Pyongan Province that took place around 12:15 p.m. on 22 April 2004. Kim's train had passed through hours before, but there are persistent rumors that he escaped by only 20 minutes. There is no particular reason to credit claims that the explosion was an assassination attempt against Kim Jong-Il.

In the September-October 2004 timeframe, Kim Jong Il appears to have restructured the Korean Workers Party, streamlining decision-making. North Korea held soirees and other events to mark the seventh anniversary (October 8) of the installation of chairman Kim Jong-il as the party general secretary and the 59th anniversary (October 10) of the founding of the Korean Workers Party.

Kim Jong-nam, estranged from his father since caught in Japan in 2001 with a forged passport, was reported to have been the target of a foiled murder plot in Austria in mid-November 2004. Sources claimed that the Austrian intelligence agency placed Kim Jong-nam under heavy security after perceiving the death threat from North Korean operatives during his stay in the country. The assassination attempt was supposedly mounted by an anti-Kim Jong-nam faction in North Korea. It is said that anti-terrorism Bureau of Austrian Interior Ministry summoned the North Korean Ambassador to Austria, Kim Kwang-sup and warned him that the plot should be terminated. But these claims of an assassination attempt in Austria were totally denied by the Austrian government.

By mid-November 2004 there were claims that North Korea's official media was no longer using the glorifying term of "Dear Leader" while referring to the country's head, Kim Jong-il. Instead the term "Leader" was used. Some analysts speculated that this reflected a downgrading of Kim Jong-il's status. But this does not appear to be correct. The last usage of "Dear Leader" in the KCNA english archive was in fact on 18 February 2004, in the context of a joint performance of the Art Troupe of Koreans in the United States and the State Symphony Orchestra gave a at the Yun I Sang Concert Hall on February 17 in celebration of February 16, the birthday of leader Kim Jong Il. The performers presented colorful numbers including female sopranos "Wellbeing of the Dear Leader Is Our Happiness." Indeed, there are only two dozen uses of the term "Dear Leader" in the KCNA english archive. There are, however, over 300 references to the "great leader Kim Jong Il" in the archive. And a search of the KCNA archives reveals a number citations of "leader Kim Jong Il" dating back to 1997. Indeed, the "Great Leader Kim Il Sung, Dear Leader Kim Jong Il" construct appears to be largely an artifact of the period prior to the death of Kim Il Sung. While the KCNA English archive has of 10,000 mentions of Kim Il Sung, there are only slightly more than 100 mentions of "Great Leader Kim Il Sung."

One report circulating in Seoul claimed that September 2004 Kim Jong Il's sister, Kim Kyong-hee, was seriously injured in a traffic accident, which was assumed to have been an attempt on her life.

In mid-November 2004 reports surfaced that North Korea was taking down a number of the ubiquitous public portraits of Kim Jong Il. The reported removals have sparked speculation about changes in the power structure of North Korea's Stalinist government. In addition, some reports noted that North Korea's tightly controlled news media had failed to refer to Kim Jong Il by the honorific title of "Dear Leader" in a recent story, although diplomats and analysts have pointed out that this term is not always used in official news reports.

Such changes in the secretive state's official treatment of Kim was unusual and possibly significant, and raised speculation in the absence of hard information. The US State Department publicly downplayed the significance of the recent reports. State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli addressed the issue briefly on 18 November 2004: "Quite frankly, we haven't seen really anything going on in North Korea to raise alarm bells here."

North Korea denied reports that portraits of its leader had been removed from some public spaces. An official of North Korea's foreign ministry, Ri Gyong Son, labeled stories about disappearing pictures of leader Kim Jong Il as "groundless fabrications." The statement came in response to speculation that a possible power struggle or some other, unexplained change in Kim's status was under way in Pyongyang.

There are reports that Kim Jong Il had orchestrated the political changes himself. An unnamed North Korean diplomat who recently defected to the South told the Korea Times Kim ordered the portraits removed in 2003.

During 2004 North Korea reportedly adopted a new criminal code, with increased penalties for people who criticize the government or bring in banned books, videos or music from the outside. The new code, adopted in April 2004 and reported in South Korean media in December 2004, reduced from three years to two the prison term for anyone who tried to defect to China for economic reasons.

On 01 February 2005 it was reported that on 27 January 2005 North Korea's state radio had quoted Kim Jong Il as saying "I will uphold Father President's instructions ... that if he falls short of completing the revolution, it will be continued by his son and grandson." Kim made the announcement three weeks before his 63rd birthday, on 16 February. When Kim Il Sung was 62, it was announced that Kim Jong Il would succeed him.



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