Kim Jong Un surrounds himself with an inner circle of military leaders, family and confidantes. CNBC takes a look into these figures and what they might say about the future of the hermit kingdom.
Kim Jong Un is the so-called supreme leader of North Korea, and ultimately he makes all of the decisions. However, even in a dictatorship, there is still a chain of command. Here is what Kim Jong Un's inner circle looks like.
Ri Sol Ju is Kim's wife. According to The Guardian, Ri was a popular singer in North Korea before she was matched with Kim Jong Un by his father, Kim Jong Il. It is widely believed that Ri and Kim have three children, though facts about his offspring, like much else in his private life, are shrouded in secrecy. The Guardian reported that in April 2018, Ri was given the honorary title of "first lady of North Korea," the first to get that title since 1974. This promotion gives her the ability to advise Kim and travel abroad with him on diplomatic trips.
Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un's sister, is the vice minister of the Propaganda and Agitation Department. Michael Madden, visiting scholar at the US Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University and founder and director of NK Leadership Watch, told CNBC that Kim Yo Jong is primarily tasked with overseeing her brother's public image via North Korean state TV and organizing his schedule. Madden said she deserves more credit than she gets, as she is one of the main players behind the scenes. Kim is a trusted advisor of her brother's and was thus sent to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea to represent North Korea.
Choe Ryong Hae is the unofficial second in command in North Korea, according to Madden. His official position is director of the Organization Guidance Department. Madden says this massive department is the most powerful institution in North Korea. It is responsible for all personnel affairs and surveillance.
Ri Yong Gil was named chief of the North Korean Army general staff as part of a wider leadership shake-up in May 2018, Madden said. Ri is the highest-ranking military official. It was falsely reported by South Korean media in 2016 that Ri was executed for corruption and "factional conspiracy."
Pak Pong Ju is premier of North Korea. Madden said that he determines all policy on the domestic front, including economic policy. His first stint as premier lasted from 2003 until 2007. Although it was reported that he fell out of favor with the Kim Jong Il regime, he was reinstated as premier in 2013 by Kim Jong Un. Madden said Pak is the most powerful non-military leader in Kim Jong Un's inner circle.
Kim Yong Chol is leader of the United Front Work Department. He determines foreign policy and defense strategy. According to Madden, he focuses on foreign policy with regard to South Korea and the United States. He is the North's top diplomat in U.S. negotiations. In May 2018, Kim Yong Chol even traveled to the United States, meeting with President Donald Trump in the White House. Kim is responsible for many hostile acts against South Korea and the United States, including cyber attacks, according to The Guardian, and the "Cheonan incident," which led to the deaths of 46 South Korean sailors in 2010, according to CNN.
Then there is the trio of military advisors who are always by Kim Jong Un's side during missile tests. First is Ri Pyong Chol, a former air force general. Reuters reported that he currently holds a high position in the Worker's Party of Korea. Second is Kim Jong Sik, the deputy director of the Military Industry Department. According to Reuters, he leads the development of missiles and nuclear weapons. He worked his way up from being a civilian aeronautics technician. Finally, Jang Chang Ha is president of the Academy of the National Defense Science. Jang is responsible for buying weapons from North Korea's allies and leading missile tests, according to Reuters.
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Meet Kim Jong Un's Inner Circle | CNBC