By Jack Kim
SEOUL Dec 14 When North Korea's Kim Jong-un
commemorates a year of his rule next week, he will be able to
declare he has fulfilled the country's long-held dream of
becoming a "space powerhouse".
In a mass parade in Pyongyang on Friday, tens of thousands
of soldiers dressed in olive green and standing in serried
ranks, as well as bareheaded civilians, celebrated this week's
successful rocket launch, hailing Kim's "victory".
"Under the great leadership of Kim Jong-un, we are carrying
out a sacred task towards our last victory so as to build strong
and prosperous nation," Kim Ki-nam, a politburo member from the
Workers Party of Korea, told the applauding and cheering crowds
that turned out in freezing temperatures.
Sharing the kudos with the 29-year old leader will be three
civilians who have grown stronger in the past year and have
helped Kim exert control over the country's powerful military,
which may edge the country closer to an attempt to reopen
dialogue with the United States.
Wednesday's launch, in which North Korea put a satellite in
space for the first time, may have helped cement the position of
Kim's uncle Jang Song-thaek and Choe Ryong-hae, the military's
top political strategist, as well as Ju Kyu-chang, the
84-year-old head of the country's missile and nuclear programme.
"The rocket launch is a boost politically to the standing of
Jang Song-thaek and Choe Ryong-hae, who have been around Kim
Jong-un," said Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute of Defense
Analyses, a government-affiliated think tank in South Korea.
While Washington has condemned the rocket launch and called
for tougher sanctions on North Korea it was, as recently as
February, willing to offer food aid to Pyongyang. At that time
it was just over a year since the North shelled a South Korean
island, killing civilians, and sank a South Korean warship.
The rise of Jang and Chae especially, once ridiculed as
"fake" military men by army veterans, together with the
country's aging chief missile bureaucrat, could also mean the
renegade state will try its hand at using what is now stronger
leverage in negotiations to extract aid and concessions.
Jang is the brother-in-law of Kim Jong-il and was the chief
promoter of his son Kim Jong-un when the elder Kim died on Dec.
17 last year. Jang has further increased his prominence in
recent weeks with high-level public appearances, at times in
unprecedented proximity to the leader of a country where
appearance and formality are rigidly controlled.
Jang accompanied Kim to the rocket command centre to watch
the successful launch on Wednesday, the North's state news
agency KCNA said.
He is officially a vice chairman of the ruling National
Defence Commission and an army general in name only, but is
widely believed to be the North's second-in-command in reality.
Jang is considered a pragmatist who is willing to engage
both allies and enemies abroad, but also one who understands the
challenge of cementing the position of the young and relatively
untested grandson of the state's founder.
Baek noted that comments by the North's Foreign Ministry,
customarily the channel used by the leadership to wage war of
words with the United States, had been tempered recently,
indicating Pyongyang may seek a way back into negotiations.
"The North may start to send active indications to the
United States and China that it is willing to talk, even to go
back to the six-party talks, and to say that its pledge for a
missile test moratorium still stands," Baek said.
The six-party talks are aimed at halting North Korea's
nuclear programme and involve the North, the United States,
China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. They have been held since
2003 but have stalled since 2008.
Choe is another Workers' Party faithful now donning army
uniform. He is head of the General Political Department of the
North's 1.2-million strong Army, and is seen as the other major
beneficiary of this week's rocket launch.
Jang and Choe are anomalies in a country that claims its
roots in the armed struggle against Japan, in that they have not
risen through the army's ranks but have received military titles
that are said to be a source of ridicule among their opponents.
"Choe and Jang will benefit from the launch because they are
the ones who will have undermined the military's influence and
strengthened the party's status," said Moon Hong-sik of South
Korea's Institute for National Security Strategy, a
The surprise success of Wednesday's launch after a failure
in April will be credited to Jang and Choe while Kim will boost
his credibility as a leader who gets the job done, said Suh
Choo-suk, who was chief national security advisor to former
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.
"I think Kim Jong-un's overall control is already solid. His
control will be even stronger through the rocket launch."
The technical aspects of the North's longstanding missile
programme and possibly its nuclear project are led by a quiet
and elderly engineer Ju Kyu-chang, another civilian in army
Ju has been around since the North first tested its
long-range missile technology in the summer of 1998 and is still
believed to be in charge of the day-to-day running of the
project to develop missiles and possibly nuclear weapons.
Recognition appears to have come relatively late in life for
the silver haired technocrat Ju, who is believed to have trained
as a metal alloy specialist, as he started to appear in public
with the country's top leader only when he turned 70.
Officially, Ju is the head of the ruling Workers' Party of
Korea's oddly named Machine-Building Industry Department. He was
also named to the National Defence Commission, the country's top
military body, after the North's 2009 long-range missile test.
Ju is among the North's most heavily sanctioned individuals,
personally named in several government blacklists.
"His rise coincided with the escalation of pace in the
North's missile and nuclear programmes," said an expert with a
South Korean state-run think tank who did not want to be named.
"It could very well have been as a reward for his