North Koreans lay flowers at the base of statues of the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung, and late leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in December 2013 to commemorate the second anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death.(David Guttenfelder / Associated Press)
SEOUL -- Leading up to the second anniversary of the death of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the Kim family has reappeared in public, only a few days after the reported execution of the current leader’s uncle.
Following the announcement of Jang Song Taek’s execution on Friday, Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader of the reclusive state, made a series of appearances after being absent from the public eye for more than two weeks.
Over the weekend and on Monday morning, the North’s state media continuously reported on what Pyongyang has dubbed “field guidance” trips by Kim. The state media service released several photos of Kim visiting a military design institute, a lavish ski resort and a fish factory on unknown dates.
But less than a week before a smiling Kim locked arms with other high officials, sitting in front of a stack of fish, his uncle by marriage was denounced as “human scum” in a special military trial and promptly executed.
The 67-year-old Jang, who was married to Kim Jong Il’s only full sister, Kim Kyong Hui, was appointed to the country’s No. 2 position by the ailing leader in 2010. Jang was believed to be a mentor and regent to young heir Kim Jong Un after his father died Dec. 17, 2011, apparently from a heart attack.
However, Jang was purged for his “anti-state, counterrevolutionary actions” and other crimes including womanizing, drug abuse and gambling, official media said.
Many commentators analyzed the shocking public purge of Jang as a sign of instability in Kim Jong Un’s leadership. Pundits also speculated on what would happen to aunt Kim Kyong Hui, 67, who serves as the ruling party’s secretary for organization.
However, Kim Kyong Hui appeared to be unscathed, as she was named to an ad hoc state funeral committee set up for a high party official who died Friday.
Meanwhile, Ri Sol Ju, Kim Jong Un’s wife -- rumored to have been recommended by Jang to Kim -- also reappeared after 58 days since last being seen in public. She was seen accompanying her husband while visiting the refurbished Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, the mausoleum of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, in a new propaganda documentary that has been airing since Friday.
“Kim Jong Un is trying to show that his leadership remains undiminished after the execution,” said Kim Seung-hwan, International affairs professor at Myongji University in Seoul. “Many are speculating North Korean society would be unstable after Jang’s execution, so Kim’s trying to defy that.”
The execution of Jang has alarmed officials outside North Korea. South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Monday presided over a meeting of the country’s top foreign affairs and security officials and ordered them to keep a sharp lookout. In an interview with ABC News during his recent Vietnam trip, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry called the execution of Jang “an ominous sign” for the region.
“It tells us a lot about, first of all, how ruthless and reckless he is. And it also tells us a lot about how insecure he is, to a certain degree,” Kerry said.
On Monday, the North’s KCNA state news service reported that North Korea has renewed its loyalty to Kim, holding a mass military rally in front of Pyongyang’s Kumsusan Palace.
Whether a memorial marking the second anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death had taken place is unconfirmed, but some analysts speculate that the seating arrangement at the event will indicate who will be the power players of the communist state in the near future.
Choi is a special correspondent.