Jong Cheol Powerless in Pyongyang

[imText1]Kim Jong Cheol, the second son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, has been spotted at a concert by guitarist Eric Clapton in Singapore. It is the first time that Kim has been sighted since younger brother Kim Jong Eun was officially designated as successor to Kim Jong Il last September, and the timing says much about his standing in Pyongyang.

According to video footage revealed by KBS, Kim was accompanied by an entourage of 20 or so people at the concert at Singapore Indoor Stadium on Valentine’s Day.

Chosun Ilbo, citing an anonymous source in North Korea, reported that Kim went to Singapore with a woman, bodyguards and members of an orchestra, and stayed in one of the suites at the $500/night Pan Pacific Singapore Hotel. He apparently also visited both Universal Studios and Underwater World, and purchased an expensive diamond.

Kim apparently saw the Clapton concert from the VIP section ($300), and bought a large amount of memorabilia. He left Singapore right after the concert, passing through Beijing International Airport en route for Pyongyang.

The second son’s appearance in Singapore right before his father’s birthday provides as clear an indication as has been seen that he is not in the race to become the successor, since in North Korea the leader’s birthday is regarded as the main political event of the year. Therefore, whether or not one is heavily involved in organizing the event serves as a key measure of power.

In essence, Kim’s overseas trip means that he played no significant role in preparations for Kim Jong Il’s birthday. This is supported by North Korean inside sources, who report that this year’s birthday events were very much of Kim Jong Eun’s doing.

Some forecast that Kim Jong Cheol is now in much the same position as Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of Kim Jong Il who was the first to find himself out of the successor race and now rarely returns to Pyongyang.

Among the sparse information available on Kim Jong Cheol, his love for Eric Clapton features heavily. In 2008, he is said to have requested that Clapton perform in Pyongyang, and there are also reports that he ordered a Clapton tribute band named “Saebyoljo” to be made.