Uncle Jang emerges as real power in North Korea

Late leader's brother-in-law will guide the 'Great Successor'

North Korea's anointed "Great Successor" Kim Jong-un will have to rule from under the thumb of an uncle widely regarded as "the regent" who is both coaching him on how to govern, and telling him what to do.

That is the view of South Korean analysts as Kim Jong-il lies in a glass coffin in Pyongyang and weeping mourners file by for a last glimpse of the man who ruled North Korea for 17 years before dying last Saturday.

Behind the scenes of mourning, a backstage plan to ensure a smooth transition of power has thrust Jang Song-thaek into the spotlight. The brother-in-law of the former leader is thought to wield the most power in the new North Korean administration and is joined by his wife Kim Kyong-hui, and the highest ranking military commander, General Ri Young-ho in the country's most powerful decision-making group.

Ha Tae-keung, director of a small short-wave radio station that broadcasts news into North Korea for two hours a day, believes Jang exercises the most power of all of those now scheming for influence in this time of transition.

"It's not a junta," Mr Ha said. "One person has the most power, and that's Jang."

Kim Jong-un, his father's third son, appears to be the unquestioned heir to the appearance of power but clearly will be following Jang's advice before attempting to assert his own authority. Analysts in Seoul question however, whether Jang can remain so powerful without the patronage of Kim Jong-il. In the last photograph ever taken of Kim Jong-il, Jang is seen behind him and Kim Jong-un going down an escalator in a new luxury market.

However, Jang spent three years out of public view, from 2003 to 2006, after appearing overly ambitious as a party organiser responsible, among other things, for having drawn tens of thousands of the party faithful into the capital of Pyongyang from homes and posts elsewhere. Of key importance is how quickly the new leader can learn.

Over the last 18 months his father led him on numerous trips of military installations, factories and farms in a desperate effort to teach him how to govern. Kim Jong-un now holds top posts in the party, the government and the military establishment but, still in his late 20s, has never had actual responsibility in a real job.

Shim Jae-hoon, a political analyst, questions the new leader's credentials. Kim Jong-un is "very much untested quantity. He's too young for job," he said. The principal value of Kim Jong-un, for now, said Shim, is that he "symbolises the house of Kim" – that is, Kim Il-sung, the "Great Leader" who ruled with an iron fist for nearly 50 years before passing on power to his son, Kim Jong-il, and dying in 1994.

Ahead of Kim Jong-il's funeral next week, North Korea was sealing its northern border with China. Conscious that most of its military will be in the capital, and that the Chinese border is an area favoured by would-be deserters, the North Koreans have locked down border crossings, stymieing trade and communications.

In South Korea there was embarrassment for the intelligence agencies yesterday when officials faced a barrage of criticism over not knowing of Kim Jong-il's death before North Korea's state media announced it on Monday, 50 hours after he died.

After stumbling under questioning from members of the National Assembly, officials were humiliated by a report yesterday that the Chinese may have known about Kim's death within hours after he reportedly collapsed and died on a train.

JoongAng Ilbo, a leading South Korean newspaper, quoted Chinese sources saying China's ambassador to North Korea told his government of Kim's death on the same day.

South Korea's foreign ministry had insisted that China did not get word well in advance, but the sense remains that South Korea's intelligence service is playing catch-up on an event it should have known about first.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum