Kim Song-nam and Jon Hui Jong: North Korea’s éminence grise for China?

By | March 06, 2012 | No Comments

With the publication of the most successful revised dissertation in recent memory, Patrick McEachern’s Inside the Red Box, institutionally-oriented analyses are back in vogue when it comes to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. However, the weight and activities of some personalities still matter very much more than others in the DPRK, and Nicolas Levi’s missive from Warsaw sheds light on two individuals through whom state power seems to be flowing in abundance. — Adam Cathcart, Editor-in-Chief

Kim Song-nam and Jon Hui Jong: North Korea’s éminence grise for China?

by Nicolas Levi

The North Korean leadership is faced with a terrible dilemma of having to balance between the Chinese and the Russian regimes. Maintaining a good policy is, of course, a tough job. To aid decision making, Kim Jong Un has surrounded himself with a number of advisors who are considered experts on foreign relations. One of these individuals is Kim Song-nam.

Kim Song-nam in Jilin Province, China

Kim Song-nam (born in 1935) is a North-Korean politician who welcomed the Chinese envoy Wang Jiarui on his arrival in North Korea on February 6, but who is he? Is he an important member of the North Korean leadership? In the opinion of this analyst, Kim Song-nam is in fact a key-figure of the North Korean Leadership.

Kim Song Nam accompanying Kim Il Song

He’s a viable, long-time advisor to the Kim family on Chinese matters. He began to cultivate his expertise on the Middle Kingdom when he studied in China and became fluent in Mandarin. Following this stint, Kim Song-nam became a China expert in the Workers Party’s International Department. Moreover, he is not only the official interpreter for Kim Jong Un (and previously to Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung), but he is also an experienced economic adviser. He’s also a member of the Municipal Committee for the Pyongyang Branch of the Korean Workers’ Party. Admittedly, Kim has a far less visible role on nuclear issues. (These issues are in the hand of Kim Kye Kwang.)

He was spotted in Yanji, the center of China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, on September 18, 2011. He has also attended high level discussions between China and North Korea, even as the head of several delegations. Kim Song-nam seems to be more reform minded, given that he is personally in charge of some Chinese investments in North Korea. Despite his black hair, Kim belongs to the first generation of North Korean politicians. His age means that he will probably retire from North Korean politics very soon. But if Kim Jong Un has placed trust in him, it means that Kim will be on the list of people who are to receive gifts from the leader.

Kim Song Nam, right, with Wang Jiarui

Another strong advisor of Kim Jong Un on China is the old Jon Hui Jong (b. 1930). Once Kim Jong-il’s chief of protocol and director of the National Defense Commission Foreign Affairs Department, Jon is a former ambassador to Egypt and has worked as a diplomat in Africa and Asia. He’s traveled to China many times and was probably the key advisor for Kim Jong Il on foreign affairs beginning in 1982. While Kim Song-nam is clearly focused more on economic matters, Jon Hui Jong, however, seems to be more focused on political affairs. Like Kim, though, Jon is also quite old and will probably disappear from the political scene in the near future.

Jon Hui Jong stands beside Kim Jong-Eun

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  1. September 18, 2012? – Please change to: “He was spotted in Yanji, the center of China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, on September 18, 2011”

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