Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the Jangchon Vegetable Co-op Farm in Sadong District, Pyongyang City, whose looks have undergone a radical change to be a model and a standard of the socialist rural cultural construction, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on June 30, 2015. Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has appointed Kim Hyon-Nam, a 44-year-old man described as his half-uncle, to a senior position in the nation’s foreign ministry, according to a report. Kim Hyon-Nam purportedly lived in hiding during the reign of Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il.

Kim Hyon-Nam works in the branch of North Korea’s foreign ministry that handles diplomacy with Japan, South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported, according to the Telegraph. He purportedly attended a Japanese school in his youth, though additional information on his role within the foreign ministry was not revealed.

It’s unclear why Kim Jong Un gave the role to his half-uncle, who is said to have kept a low profile when his half-brother Kim Jong Il was in power. Kim Jong Il, who ruled North Korea until his death in 2011, allegedly feared Kim Hyon-Nam could pose a threat to his regime.

“I expect Kim Jong Un summoned Kim Hyon-Nam back to Pyongyang and gave him a job as he is still relatively weak and feared that other factions might support Kim Hyon-Nam,” Toshimitsu Shigemura, a North Korea expert at Japan’s Waseda University told the Telegraph. “It is also possible that China is looking for an alternative North Korean leader and could have thrown their support behind another member of the Kim family.”

Under King Jong Un, North Korea has purportedly carried out several executions and purges of top officials deemed potential threats to his power. The North Korean leader ordered the deaths of 15 senior officials through the first four months of 2015, South Korea’s spy agency said, according to Reuters.

Kim Jong Un had his uncle Jang Song-Thaek executed in December 2013 after he was purportedly found guilty of treason, the Guardian reported. The North Korean government accused Jang Song-Thaek of an attempted coup and blamed him for the country’s failed currency reform, state news agency KNCA said.