Kim Jong Un: North Korea's next leader?
'Dear Leader' Kim Jong Il has reportedly tapped his youngest son as his successor.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Kim Jong Il seems to be moving quickly to pick a successor as questions swirl about how much time he has left to rule the country, while recovering from a stroke that he reportedly suffered last August and struggling with other illness.
North Korea is giving no hints about succession, but the rapid-fire moves to show off the North's military strength, notably the underground test of a nuclear device on May 25, are believed to be timed to demonstrate Kim Jong Il's power despite his physical weakness.
North Korea this week is reported to be moving a long-range missile to a site on the west coast for a test similar to the one conducted from the east coast on April 25.
"The background to the nuclear and missile thing is, you have a dying monarch who doesn't have an established successor," says Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. He adds, "you'd think he would want all his succession ducks lined up in a row."
Questions over succession reports
Analysts look askance, however, at the definitive nature of the South Korean reports on Kim Jong Il's selection of his youngest son. Although he may be a better choice than his two older brothers, his inexperience raises questions about who would really be in charge.
"It looks like Dad has toyed with the idea of all the boys," says Mr. Eberstadt, author of numerous studies on North Korea, but, he asks, "What evidence do we have?"
Kim Jong Un is not at the center of the ruling Workers' Party and is not a member of the Supreme People's Assembly, the legislative body that rubber-stamps all Kim Jong Il's decisions, Eberstadt notes.
Nor is he a member of the National Defense Commission, though he recently assumed the title of "inspector" of the armed forces, and he has had a minor government post.
Still, South Korean media are giving credence to a briefing by the National Intelligence Service to South Korean National Assembly members from the opposition party, normally extremely critical of government policy.
Major newspapers also report the same speculation, none of it formally confirmed on the record by the South Korean government.
"The designation of the successor was passed down to North Korea's Workers Party, the Supreme People's Assembly, and military right after the North carried out a nuclear test last week," according to the conservative Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's biggest-selling newspaper, citing simply "several intelligence sources."
The same reports say mid-level party, government, and military officials were notified for the first time that Kim Jong Il had "apparently made the choice early this year," says Chosun Ilbo.
The article suggests that "high-level officials in North Korea" were "confidentially notified of the decision" before word filtered down the ranks.
A song to praise Kim Jong Un?
Park Jie Won, former top aide of Kim Dae Jung, the former South Korean president who initiated the South's Sunshine policy of reconciliation with North Korea, said National Intelligence Service officials had told him North Korean officials are now "pledging allegiance" to Kim Jong Un. Mr. Park, now a member of the National Assembly, helped arrange for Kim Dae-jung's summit with Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in June 2000.