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Kim Yong Ju, Brother of North Korea’s Founder, Dies Aged 101

SEOUL— Kim Yong Ju, who was the oldest surviving member of North Korea’s ruling family and once considered a potential candidate to lead the country, has died. He was 101 years old.

The younger brother of the country’s founder Kim Il Sung, Kim Yong Ju was praised for “accelerating socialist construction and developing the Korean-style state social system,” North Korean state media reported Wednesday.

Kim Jong Un, the North’s leader and grandson of Kim Il Sung, sent a funeral wreath and expressed his deepest condolences, state media reported.

Kim Yong Ju was part of North Korea’s government in the country’s early years. In 1967, he proposed the original version of a document—called “Ten Principles for the Establishment of the One-Ideology System”—that still governs the lives of North Koreans. Kim Yong Ju, who rose to deputy prime minister, participated in the first inter-Korean talks in the 1970s.

He was seen as a potential successor to Kim Il Sung at one point in the 1970s, although testimonies from former high-ranking North Korean officials have split on whether Kim Yong Ju was viewed as a viable candidate for permanent leader or seen as a stopgap.

Ultimately, Kim Jong Il, the eldest son of Kim Il Sung, was groomed for North Korea’s top position—and Kim Yong Ju faded from power.

Kim Yong Ju was born in 1920, in an area west of Pyongyang, during Japan’s colonization of Korea, according to South Korea’s unification ministry. He moved to the Soviet Union in 1941, where he studied politics and economics in Moscow. He returned to North Korea in the 1950s after Kim Il Sung had risen to power.

Kim Yong Ju isn’t believed to have married or fathered children, according to Seoul’s unification ministry. His political rise was halted by September 1973, when Kim Jong Il replaced him as the head of the Workers’ Party’s organization and guidance department, according to the unification records. Kim Yong Ju didn’t hold a formal title again for nearly two decades.

In 1993, Kim Yong Ju was appointed vice chair and a member of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee. The following year he served on his older brother’s funeral committee. He held a seat in Pyongyang’s rubber-stamp parliament until a few years into Kim Jong Un’s rule, which began almost a decade ago. He was last photographed in North Korean state media in 2015, after having cast a vote at a local election.

Kim Yong Ju, on the far right, in July 1994, isn’t believed to have married or had children.

Photo: Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service/AP

In Wednesday’s state media report, Kim Yong Ju was referenced as having won some of North Korea’s highest awards for service to state and communism, including the Order of Kim Il Sung and the Order of Kim Jong Il.

Kim Jong Un’s extended family now includes an elderly half-uncle, Kim Pyong Il, who spent decades living in Eastern Europe as a foreign diplomat until returning permanently to North Korea in 2019, according to Seoul’s spy agency. The oldest surviving second-generation Kim is Kim Kyong Hui, aunt of the current leader and a full sister of Kim Jong Il. She held senior government positions early in Kim Jong Un’s reign, though was sidelined after her husband, Jang Song Thaek, was executed in 2013.

Kim Jong Un has an older brother, who is believed to be uninterested in politics, while his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, has seen her role elevated in recent years as a regime mouthpiece for U.S. and South Korean relations.

Write to Timothy W. Martin at [email protected]

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