Kim Ok’s Influence on the Succession of Kim Jong Il

Kim Ok (44), known as Kim Jong Il’s fourth and current wife, is expected to play a crucial role in deciding the dictator’s successor, an expert on North Korea said in an interview with Radio Free Asia.

Center for Naval Analyses (CAN) Corporation’s analyst Ken Gause recommended, on Tuesday, that the U.S. intelligence agencies pay attention to Kim Ok, who is the first lady of North Korea and “can control access to Kim Jong Il and declare herself as a representative of Kim Jong Il if he becomes gravely ill.”

Kim Ok, born in 1964, studied piano at the Pyongyang College of Music and Dance. Having worked as Kim Jong Il’s personal secretary in the early 1980s, she later became his wife. She made her appearance on the international stage at the first inter-Korean summit in 2000.

In 2006, Kim Ok accompanied Kim Jong Il’s visit to China and met Chinese President Hu Jintao, proving her significance as Kim’s most entrusted entourage.

“Kim Ok is able to get the most up-to-date information on Kim Jong Il’s health or his whereabouts in the case of an emergency, so she can act quickly and swiftly” said Gause.

He added that “Kim Ok is deeply involved in running Kim Jong Il’s personal organizations including Department 39 (which handles Kim Jong Il’s slush funds), thus she has both authority and the means to influence the decision of Kim Jong Il’s successor in the case of an accident.”

Australian Congressional Research Service’s Jeffery Robertson also anticipated “Kim Ok’s influence over succession in North Korea, if she guarantees the elite’s status quo.”

“No matter who becomes North Korea’s next leader, for the North Korean elite including the Korean Laborers’ Party, the armed forces and the Kim family, keeping their power and privilege is most important. And if Kim Ok gains trust from them in keeping the status quo, she certainly can gather support from the elites,” added Robertson.

Lee Ki Dong, analyst of South Korea’s Institute of National Security and Strategy, told the Daily NK “while Kim Ok is Kim Jong Il’s most trusted, her influence over succession must entail two conditions at the same time, namely that no clear successor has been decided and that Kim Ok has a monopoly of information on Kim’s sudden death.”

Lee guessed “North Korea should have a contingency plan for something like Kim Jong Il’s death. If he dies after a successor has been officially nominated or if high-ranking party officials were to be at his side when he’s on his death bed, then Kim Ok’s influence will be minimal.”

On the timing of successor nomination, Lee said that since Kim Jong Il’s age is more important than his successor’s age, 2012 (when Kim Jong Il turns to 70) will be most likely.