5 key people to watch in North Korea

4. Jang Song-thaek

Kyodo News/Newscom/File
Jang Song-thaek, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law and a senior official of the North's ruling party, is shown in this Mar. 26, 2006 file photo.

Jang Song-thaek is often cited as a possible “regent” if Kim Jong-un rises to a top post after Kim Jong-il passes on. Jang owes his power in large measure to the influence of his wife, Kim Jong-il’s younger sister, Kim Kyong-hui.

Mr. Jang rose through the ranks of the Workers’ Party but disappeared from view for several years. Then in 2006 he came back on the radar after the death of Kim Jong-ill's wife, Ko Young-hee, who may have viewed him as a threat to the rise of her son Kim Jong-un.

Jang, however, was not known to have had military experience when he was named to the national defense commission and then to the post of commission vice chairman in June. Now viewed as the second most-powerful man in the country, he accompanied Kim Jong-il to Beijing in May when both of them met China’s President Hu Jintao.

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