North Korea's Kim Jong-il cements 'military first' stand with key appointments
North Korea's Kim Jong-il gave son Kim Jong-un a military as well as a political role. The emphasis on military appointments in the politburo fortifies the 'military-first policy.'
Seoul, South Korea
Kim Jong-un was named vice chairman of the partyâ€™s military commission along with Ri Yong-ho, who still outranks him as chief of the North Korean Armyâ€™s general staff, at the partyâ€™s â€śhistoricâ€ť conference on Tuesday, Pyongyangâ€™s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Wednesday.
The appointments solidify Kim Jong-unâ€™s riseÂ as a military figure whoâ€™s in line to inherit his fatherâ€™s power. Kim Jong-il is chairman of the partyâ€™s military commission â€“ and rules as chairman of the real center of power, the National Defense Commission, an entirely separate entity in charge of the Northâ€™s military establishment of 1.1 million troops.
The emphasis on military appointments fortified the "military-first policy" that has dominated the regime for the past few years, but analysts also say the conference has renewed traditional emphasis on the importance of the party.
â€śFor the past 10 years the role of the party has increased,â€ť says Baek Seung-joo, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. â€śNow the partyâ€™s role is increasing. The party will play an active role in governing North Korea.â€ť
KCNA stressed the military significance of the conference, the first of its kind in 44 years, at which, it said, delegates were told to fulfill the policy of â€śsongunâ€ť or military first. The conference, said KCNA, â€śdemonstrated the revolutionary faith and will of all the party members, service persons and people.â€ť
Kim Jong-un was not named, however, as a member of the party politburo, which his father leads as general secretary. Rather, he had to settle for membership on the central committee of the party â€“ a decision by his father that is seen as a reflection on his youth and a bow to his need for experience before rising to full power.
Many details surrounding Kim Jong-un are unclear.Â Even his age, reported here to be 27 years old, is reported varyingly in the media. He is said to have attended the Kim Il-sung National War College, named for his grandfather, who ruled for nearly half a century before dying in 1994 and passing on power to Jong-unâ€™s father. Jong-un reportedly did not actually commute to classes but was tutored at one of his fatherâ€™s residences.
The new politburo lineup includes a number of familiar figures, including Kim Yong-nam, president of the Supreme Peopleâ€™s Assembly and titular head of state, and Choe Yong-rim, the premier. Among military names on the politburo are Ri Yong-ho, newly promoted to vice marshal, and Jo Myong-rok, an aging vice marshal who is first vice chairman of the National Defense Commission. Mr. Joâ€™s claim to international fame is that he went to Washington in October 2000 and, in full military regalia, met President Bill Clinton in the White House. He also was honored at a State Department dinner hosted by Madeleine Albright, then secretary of State, and saw William Cohen, secretary of Defense, at a time of reconciliation between the US and North Korea.
Another significant appointment to the politburo was that of Kang Sok-ju, a major figure in negotiations over the years on North Koreaâ€™s nuclear program, who was recently promoted from vice foreign minister to vice premier. His appointment is seen as indicating North Koreaâ€™s new emphasis, at the urging of China, to return to six-party talks on giving up its nuclear weapons in return for a massive infusion of energy aid.