North Korean power-behind-throne emerges as neighbors meet

SEOUL/BEIJING Sun Dec 25, 2011 6:03pm EST

1 of 2. New North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (front) walks with a row of top military officers, including Jang Song-thaek (L), as they pay their respects to former leader Kim Jong-il lying in state at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang, in this picture released by KCNA December 26, 2011. The picture shows Jang Song-thaek, who is Kim Jong-un's uncle and the power behind the communist state's throne, wearing a military uniform with the insignia of a general, another sign of his rising influence after the death of Kim Jong-il.

Credit: Reuters/KCNA

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SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) - North Korean television Sunday showed power-behind-the-throne Jang Song-thaek in the uniform of a general in a sign of his growing sway after the death of Kim Jong-il, and Japan's prime minister said the region faced a new phase with Kim's demise.

Footage that North Korean television said was shot on Saturday showed Jang on the frontrow of top military officers who accompanied Kim Jong-un, the youngest son of Kim Jong-il and his anointed successor, paying their respects before Kim's body.

The choreography around Kim's death is one of the secretive North's few, opaque clues to the emerging configuration of power in this poor and isolated state that has rattled neighbors with nuclear tests and military brinkmanship.

A Seoul official familiar with North Korea affairs said it was the first time Jang has been shown on state television in a military uniform. His appearance suggested that Jang has secured a key role in the North's powerful military, which has pledged its allegiance to Kim Jong-un.

North Korea announced Monday Kim Jong-il had died of a heart attack on December 17. His body is lying in state in a mausoleum in Pyongyang. He was believed to be 69.

Kim Jong-un was hailed by state media Saturday as "supreme commander" of the North's 1.1 million-strong armed forces, the title held by his father.

A senior source told Reuters this week Pyongyang will shift from a strongman dictatorship to a coterie of rulers including the military and Jang, Kim Jong-un's uncle.

Jang married the daughter of the country's revolutionary founder, Kim Il-sung, in 1972, joining the ruling family that has forged its own form of dynastic rule.

"AN NEW PHASE"

In Beijing, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that their two countries shared a stake in preserving stability in North Korea in a "new phase."

"The death of Secretary-General Kim Jong-il has brought East Asia to a new phase," Noda told Wen at the start of bilateral talks in China's capital.

Noda is the first regional leader to visit Beijing since Kim Jong-il's death was announced Monday, leaving his young son Kim Jong-un as leader of North Korea, which has rattled the region with nuclear tests and military confrontation.

But Beijing is acutely sensitive about upsetting North Korea, especially during the current delicate transition, and Wen and Noda kept their public remarks free of controversy.

"Both sides agreed that preserving the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula serves the interests of all sides," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in its account of their talks, according to the ministry website (www.mfa.gov.cn).

Wen and Noda also agreed on seeking an early restart of the six-party nuclear disarmament talks that North Korea abandoned.

China is North Korea's sole major economic and diplomatic partner, and the United States and its regional allies have long pressed Beijing to use its influence to rein in Pyongyang.

China has sought to defuse confrontation by hosting six-party nuclear disarmament talks since August 2003. The now-stalled negotiations bring together North and South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

In April 2009, North Korea said it was quitting the talks and reversing nuclear "disablement" steps, unhappy with implementation of an initial disarmament deal.

Constraining North Korea is especially important for Japan, which is well within range of the North's long-range missiles and wants Pyongyang to resolve the emotive issue of the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped to help train spies decades ago.

"It is very significant that we affirmed close communication with China, the chair country of the six-party talks," Noda told reporters after his meeting with Wen.

"We agreed that we need to address the (North Korean) issue calmly and properly and to keep close contact with each other."

(Writing and additional reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)

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Comments (6)
DifferentOne wrote:
What about North Korea’s average citizens, who live in constant fear and desperation?

What will China do to help them?

It’s nice to talk about stability, but let’s not forget human rights.

Dec 25, 2011 10:52am EST  --  Report as abuse
haneyr wrote:
Anyone who thinks that china is interested in stability has never studied the chinese history very well. It is in chinas best interests for the korean peninsula to remain instable so they can use this as a buffer to their own internal issues. While the US and others are being made fools of by north korea the chinese can sit back and act as a major player in the region saying they only want peace and prosperity. If the north were allowed to collapse on it’s own, something that should have happened when kim il sung was killed by his own power base, then china would be the biggest loser. What you will see is that if there is any possibility of the north collapsing then china will step in and annex it into their kingdom. The south would do well not to heed the advise of china and japan and their collective interests. They should send secret envoys to the north and work their own deals with junior leaders waiting for the old hardline degenerates to die.

Dec 25, 2011 7:36pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Tejicano wrote:
This article is about the PRC and how it is dealing with the recent change in leadership in North Korea. The issue of human rights in either country is not likely to be very high on their agendas at this point in time – if ever.

You will know when/if there is instability in North Korea’s upper political structure when China announces that they sent in a military “Support” unit to try to assist Kim during the “recent military coup” but unfortunately “did not arrive before his demise”. Which is to say that they will stage a strategic invasion and set up a careholder government if North Korea ever spins out of control.

Dec 25, 2011 10:12pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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