A man in a brown overcoat who welcomed Chinese envoy Wang Jiarui on his arrival in North Korea on Feb. 6 is attracting the attention of the Chinese-speaking world. Kim Song-nam is apparently a China expert in the Workers Party's International Department, the Hong Kong-based weekly Yazhou Zhoukan weekly said.
Kim Song-nam is an official interpreter who speaks Chinese fluently, the weekly said. "He worked as the official interpreter for the late North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung and leader Kim Jong-il," it added. "He has attended every high-level talk between China and North Korea over the past two decades." The North's official broadcaster described Kim Song-nam as a deputy director of the Workers Party's International Department. That seems to have been the first time the official North Korean media introduced Kim, formerly a mere interpreter, by his official title, leading to speculation that an éminence grise is stepping cautiously into the limelight.
The party's International Department is in charge of external affairs and diplomacy. "The Workers Party attaches importance not only to relations with the Chinese Communist Party but also to exchanges between the two parties. Kim Song-nam is a prominent China expert in the Workers Party," the weekly added.
Kim reportedly played a key role during Wang's recent visit, leading efforts to cement ties with China at a dinner held for Wang on the day he arrived in Pyongyang. The Chinese press said party officials from the two countries discussed developing the traditional friendship between China and North Korea. Kim was also present at a meeting between Kim Jong-il and Wang at the North Korean leader's retreat in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province on Feb. 8.
According to a Chinese Communist Party newsletter, Kim Song-nam also attended a New Year's party at the Koryo Hotel in Pyongyang on Jan. 14 hosted by the Chinese Embassy.
Until recently, the Chinese-language press were more interested in Kim Yong-il, the director of the Workers Party's International Department, as Wang's official counterpart.
Kim Yong-il was appointed to the post in January. He graduated from the French Department of Pyongyang University of Foreign Studies and served as the chief North Korean delegate in the first round of the six-party nuclear talks and as a vice foreign minister.
But Kim Song-nam had a far less visible career and is so obscure that even the South Korean Unification Ministry has no detailed information about him, including his exact age and position.