Who Takes Over North Korea if the Leader is Dead?
What is going on in North Korea? Missionary-minds would like to know.
Just a few days ago, South Korea said that Kim Jong Un was at a beach resort, China said things looked good, and Trump said that he thought his friend was in good health. We chose to believe the asylum seekers in South Korea who reported that Kim was in dire health.
When we saw that Dutch Newspapers reported him dead after the niece of a Chinese foreign minister, (who is the deputy director of HKSTV) wrote about it on social media, we chose to share that information as well.
Now, it seems that the Dear Leader is either dead or brain dead; only time will tell. Who can really know? No one even knows the real year Kim Jong Un was born. Kim Jong Un is the only leader whose real birthday is unknown to the rest of the world.
He was absolutely born in 1983 …or it could have been 1984.
Yes, that is how secretive and manipulative it is in North Korea.
For Back to Jerusalem, we watch the situation closely because the politics, economics, and social environment greatly impacts our missionary work in North Korea. It matters to us greatly who the leader is.
At the moment, it is unclear if Kim Jong Un is running the nation and the question is, who takes control of North Korea if the leader is dead?
North Korea, like the Soviet Union, does not have official line of succession. The leader is considered to be invincible in all ways. To plan for his death would be to admit his vulnerability. Democracies are built around the idea that men are fallible. Dictatorships are not.
So, again, who takes control of North Korea if the leader is dead?
To answer that, it is important to look at look at the Kim family tree, because first and foremost, the leader must come from the Kim family. This is the single most important factor to keep the regime together.
Kim Jong Un is not just the leader. He is part of a personality cult built around the family dynasty of the Mount Paektu bloodline. The successor to the throne of power in North Korea has to come from the Kim Family Dynasty.
In 2013, Clause 2 of Article 10 of the Ten Principles for the Establishment of a Monolithic Ideological System clearly states that the party and revolution must be carried “eternally” by the “Baekdu bloodline.”
Remember, the North Korean people believe that the founder of North Korea, Kim Il Sung, is the Eternal Leader, and that when they die, they will go to live with him forever – which kind of sounds an awful lot like hell.
So, who in the fruity Kim family tree could possibly take over?
To understand that we have to go back to the predecessor, Kim Jong Il.
Kim Jong Il’s successor needed to come from his family tree and this was easy, because Kim Jong Il only had one real wife (depicted above to the far right), and together they had a daughter named Cedar.
His real wife, Hong Il Chon, who he married in 1966, did not have any sons. This marriage was specially arranged by the Eternal Leader, Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il’s father. Kim Il Sung arranged the marriage because Hong’s father was a war hero in the Korean war and was martyred. This would give Kim Jong Il the admiration of the people.
Cedar, the first born daughter, was the apple of her father’s eye. She followed in his footsteps, went to the same schools, and in the later days of his life, she arranged all of his schedules and took care of his meetings. She became a high ranking officer in the North Korean military.
Cedar would seem to the best the most likely (and only) candidate, but she is not.
Kim Jong Il was a very friendly tyrant and had many female friends that he chose to keep company with. Kim Jong Il had one wife, but at least seven semi-permanent mistresses and he had children with them – each of those children also have a shot at the throne.
In addition to the wife and mistresses, Kim Jong Il had several lady friends. According to the testimony of North Korean defectors and foreign reports, Kim kept company with the sister of the North Korean Ambassador to Russia, actress Hong Yingji, and even Tunisian ambassador’s wife Li Xiangzhen. He also regularly liked the official Korean troop dancers, actresses, official nurses, office staff, etc. When he grew bored of their company, he reportedly flew girls in from the Philippines, Thailand, and different Arab nations. And for good measure, he is also rumored to have had Swedish companions flown in for him.
Not all of the mistresses are known, but let’s just look at the ones that are the most well known. Besides the wife, there are three mistresses that are depicted in the image above.
His first mistress, Song Hye Rim (depicted to the immediate left), was an actress. Kim is known to have liked actresses. Together, they had a son. Song is no longer alive. She left her son in North Korea and fled to Switzerland and then Russia. She died in Moscow in 2002.
His second and most honored mistress was Japanese. Ko Yong Hui was born and raised in Japan. Her family helped the Japanese war effort during WWII, which is a major crime in North Korea, but if you marry the Dear Leader, it is a forgettable sin. Ko Yong Hui was Kim’s favorite concubine and together they had three children – 2 boys and 1 girl. She eventually died in Paris from cancer.
His fourth mistress Kim Ok, was a singer. She cared for Kim in his older age. She did not have any known children with Kim Jong Il and shortly after his death, she was sent to the gulag. Life is tough in North Korea. It seems even tougher if you do not produce children for the Great Leader.
So, according to the law, only those in the Kim family line can be appointed as the leader of North Korea. From Kim Jong Il’s children, we have evaluated the chances of who might be the next leader of North Korea.
Each candidate is listed below as well as their chances of being the next leader.
How did we come up with these percentages?
Here is a more detailed look at how we arrived at these numbers.
Cedar is oldest daughter and is the ONLY legitimate child from Kim Jong Il’s official wife. She was a Lt. Col in the army, educated in the same school as her father and did not grow up in Europe like her half-siblings.
So, it would seem that Cedar would be the rightful successor to her father, right?
North Korea is a patriarch society. Women in the Kim family are honored like the Mother Mary, not like Joan of Arc. So, Cedar was passed over by her father.
However, in the absence of Kim Jong Un, Cedar might be evaluated. Many have been looking strongly at Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, but if a woman can be the leader, then shouldn’t it go to the first in line?
Cedar is said to be currently playing a top leadership role in the North Korean army. This is why we give Cedar a 10% chance of becoming the leader, if Kim Jong Un dies.
Kim Jong Nam
Kim Jong Nam was the first born son and was lined up to succeed his father. However, in 2001 he decided that it would be a good idea to travel to Japan on a fake Dominican Republic passport to visit Disney Land. The Japanese quickly arrested him and announced it to the world. This was a huge embarrassment for North Korea, so Kim Jong Il passed on him to be the leader. He was publicly assassinated in 2017 on orders from his own half-brother in Malaysia at the international airport.
He is dead and this is why we give him a 0% chance of becoming the leader if Kim Jong Un dies.
Kim Jong Chul
Kim Jong Chul is the next in line after his dead brother. He is the oldest son of his mother, who was the favored concubine. However, according to sources close to the family, he had movements and characteristics that were too female. Frankly, Kim Jong Il, thought that Kim Jong Chul was too gay for the position of leadership.
This communicates two things: first, Kim Jong Chul could not be the leader because he acted too much like a female, and second, females cannot be leaders in North Korea.
Because he is a male, is the brother of Kim Jong Un, and is said to have played a manly part in deciding the execution of his own uncle – we give him a slight 5% chance of being the leader if Kim Jong Un dies.
Kim Yo Jong
Kim Yo Jong is the ice queen that everyone has been speculating will take over.
Kim Yo Jong is one of the few people that Kim Jong Un trusts and this is why she has played such a vital role in the regime for the last decade.
Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong grew up isolated together in Switzerland, raised by their aunt and uncle. Kim Jong Un is said to have been very close to his aunt. She was like a mother to him and it was painful when she claimed asylum and moved to the United States. Many say that Kim Yo Jong quickly filled the vacuum for the Dear Leader.
Kim Yo Jong’s first public appearance was at a photo session for participants at the 3rd Conference of the WPK in September 2010, when she stood next to her father’s personal secretary and (alleged mistress) Kim Ok. This was before Kim Ok was sent to the gulag.
She quickly rose through the ranks, by showing her competency. In 2011, she was never named, but she orchestrated the funeral processions for her father and they were executed flawlessly.
The more you learn about her, the more you learn that Kim Jong Un was the face, but she was woman behind the OZ.
She was not really given a title until 2014 when she was publicly identified as a “senior official” of the WPK Central Committee. This was a huge honor, usually reserved for a male.
When her brother fell sick, she proved she could competently run the country in his absence. In October 2017, she was promoted again as Kim Jong Un seemed to spend more time at home with his family.
In 2017, Kim Yo-jong was made an alternate member of the politburo. She is only the second woman in North Korean history to be appointed to this decision-making body – the first being a fierce woman that Kim Il Sung personally appointed to the position and served until 2012.
Of all the other accomplishments, there is one thing that points to her importance. This month, when news broke out that Kim Jong Un was on his death bed, Kim Yo-jong was immediately reinstated as a standing member of the politburo.
The politburo is where the real power of the country is and if she is rushed to be admitted as a member, then it might be a sign that the people of North Korea are ready for a female heir.
This is why we give her a high 30% chance of being the leader if Kim Jong Un dies.
Kim Jong Un’s Wife and Son
Not much is known about Kim Jong Un’s children, but they are the obvious successors in case Kim Jong Un dies. It is suspected that he possibly has three children with his wife Ri Sol-ju.
Kim Jong Un’s marriage to Ri Sol-ju was hastily arranged by Kim Jong-il after suffering a stroke in 2008. The two were reportedly married in 2009. The child is thought to be a boy, born in 2010 – 2 years before his wife was publically recognized in 2012.
The second is a girl, as is most likely the third child. Funnily enough, the most information we have on the children of Kim Jong Un is from celebrity sports icon, Dennis Rodman, who met them during a controversial visit to the nation.
The only reason the ages of the children are kind of known is because they are calculated from when Ri Sol-Ju went missing from public appearances for months at a time. It is speculated that she was absent to give birth.
Ri Sol-ju does not have the pedigree that the politburo would like. She was a singer, dancer, and cheerleader. Reportedly, North Korean officials are “trying to erase her past as a singer and entertainer by confiscating popular bootleg CDs of her performances”.
She might seem innocent and sweet, but she is now a mother in a very dangerous nation for those that might inherit power. She is the daughter of an air force general that is a close advisor to Kim Jong Un. She is also the graduate of a university in China and speaks Mandarin. She might have been the one to finally contact the Chinese to send expert doctors to help save the life of her husband.
This means that she has powerful allies to help claim the throne for her children. Since all of the others have been passed on already, Kim Jong Un’s son would seem to be the natural choice.
He is young, and Koreans respect age, but do they respect age over the power of the bloodline? That remains to be seen.
If Ri Sol-ju has a good relationship with her sister-in-law Kim Yo-jong, then they could make a powerful allied force to secure the future of Kim Jong Un’s son. Some have suggested that Kim Yo-jong could act as a regent as the son grew older. If she could create a cult following for him (as she has done for her brother), it could be a completely painless process of succession.
Because of the power behind this selection, the resources of the mother, the experience and respect of Kim Yo-jong, and the continuation of the bloodline through Kim Jong Un’s son, we give it the highest percentage of happening at 45%.
Though there are not many wild cards, because Kim Jong Un and his sister disposed of all threats to their power, there still remain a few individuals who could pop up without warning and take power.
Kim Yong-ju is the younger brother of Kim Il-sung, who is like a god. Kim Young-ju has held every high post that there is during all of the dynasties. Since 1998, he has held the ceremonial position of Honorary Vice President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly in North Korea’s parliament. Don’t let the old photo fool you; he is 100 years old this year, so little chance of a surprise attack from him, but in North Korea, you never know.
Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae is not a member of the royal blood line, but he is a North Korean politician and military official who has served as President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and First Vice Chairman of the State Affairs Commission since April 2019. He is also a member of the Politburo and Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea. This is as high as one can be without being a member of the family.
Also, given that he has served as Kim Jong-un’s military second-in-command, he has gained trust of the military and the people.
Add to this that his son is married to Kim Yo-jong, he is kind of a patriarch to the much talked about empress of North Korea. So, he could mount a powerful campaign in North Korea.
Because of the lack of a decisive selection, we give an unknown outsider a 10% chance of becoming the leader of North Korea.
If you would like to learn more about the history of North Korea, the leaders, persecution, and underground house church, we have two books that are available now for purchase.