Jo Yong-won, a frequent member of Kim Jong-un’s entourage whose past is shrouded in mystery, has reportedly been appointed deputy to the North Korean dictator
Kim Jong-un’s party has reportedly revived its former role as first secretary and turned the post into a deputy leadership post.
The transformation comes as speculation continues to grow about the health of the North Korean dictator with growing rumors that he is failing.
Jo Yong-won, a frequent member of Kim Jong-un’s entourage whose past is shrouded in mystery, was reportedly nominated for the role.
A leading expert on North Korea has lifted the veil on the enigmatic figure, calling Yong-won a kingmaker who will prepare the next Kim for leadership.
Michael Madden, who runs North Korea Leadership Watch, an affiliate of 38 North watchdog, said Yong-won himself could not have any leadership ambitions.
Credit: Pen News)
He said, “It would have to be a Kim [that succeeds as leader] and Jo Yong-won knows it.
“Yong-won would not have the post he holds if Kim Jong-un and other members of the regime thought he had the personal ambition to take the lead.”
However, the analyst said, Yong-won could prove instrumental in the longer-term power transition.
“Then we can say that maybe Kim Jong-un is preparing Jo Yong-won as a kingmaker – as a person to help guide and guide a hereditary successor,” he said.
Credit: Pen News)
Mr. Madden cited the actions of Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, towards the end of his life to support his claim.
He said: “In 2007 his father had a TIA (transient ischemic attack) called a mini-stroke.
“His health was getting a little precarious and he was starting to prepare for the inheritance.
“So he basically assigned five or six people whose loyalty and ambitions he didn’t need to question to serve as attorneys.
“And these people have taken on very large portfolios of sensitive policies.
“These are the people who made the transition from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un as effective as it was. They all guided Kim Jong-un during those early days. “
Mr. Madden said Yong-won’s origins were obscure, but he most likely worked in the organization’s guidance department – the body that carries out the chief’s orders.
The senior party official was also identified as the most prominent member of Kim Jong-un’s entourage in 2016 and 2018.
Credit: Pen News)
The lack of additional biographical information suggests that Yong-won, born circa 1957, is of military descent, according to Mr. Madden.
He said, “There is very little – and this applies to both unclassified and classified sources – in terms of biographical information on Jo Yong-won.
“Since we don’t have a biographical sketch on him, I would say there is a very good chance that he started his career as a military officer.
“Maybe he has known Kim Jong-un to some extent, and that’s why he has the job he currently has.
Credit: Pen News)
“He has just migrated from a military official who wears a uniform to a civilian party official who wears Mao’s black suit.”
Rumors of Kim Jong-un’s ill health have snowballed amid mounting circumstantial evidence.
He is believed to be a heavy smoker and drinker, whose height and weight mean he is morbidly obese, putting him at greater risk for health problems.
Last year, he missed the Sun Day celebrations on April 15, being out of public view for North Korea’s main national holiday.
He only resurfaced after several weeks of absence, amid feverish speculation that he was dead.
He’s also believed to have lost weight this year, although the cause of his rapid three-stone weight loss is uncertain.
And in recent weeks, he’s been spotted with a large greenish spot or bruise on the back of his head, which was covered with a bandage in some photos.
However, Mr. Madden believes that Yong-won’s appointment isn’t necessarily indicative of potentially life-threatening health issues that Jong-un could be battling.
He said: “There really isn’t anyone in government or in any official circle who envisions some sort of deathbed or coma scenario as to why this position exists.
“That’s one of about three or four reasons – and it’s not the first or second reason you would have this position in the regime.”
He added: “What we’re most likely looking at is that he chose to lose weight on his own for the reason obese people around the world are losing weight.
“It’s better for his cardiovascular system.”
The analyst believes that the Yong-won promotion is more related to lightening the workload of the leader by delegating responsibilities to him.
It also creates a scapegoat, who can be blamed if North Korea is unable to resolve its crippling food crisis or tackle insubordination among party officials.
“When you’re a politician and there are problems, you need someone to blame,” Mr. Madden said.
“And if the shit hits the fan in North Korea, who will be blamed Kim Jong-un?” The first secretary, because he’s his deputy.
But even so, Mr. Madden agrees that the possibility of Kim Jong-un’s death is another reason for the role.
“They are definitely making this decision keeping an eye on the transition,” he said.
“Why? Because air conditioners fall from buildings, people fall in the shower and have subdural hematoma and die from severe concussions, and people have heart attacks that they did not expect.
“So they’re definitely making a decision like this with an eye out for a potential transition – with an eye out that the leader might be irreparably incapacitated or might die.”