North Korea's Kim Jong-il may go public with dynastic rule
Speculation is rampant that North Korea's Kim Jong-il will go public with plans to name his son his heir at a rare political conference.
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Jumping to conclusions
Under those circumstances, a mere allusion to Kim Jong-un’s presence at the conference will be news. And a photograph of him in a line-up of newly appointed party officials would be an event of global significance considering the reported fragile health of his father.Skip to next paragraph
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Given Kim Jong-un’s anonymity, Mr. Flake sees the party conference as intended simply to acquaint important people with the son’s existence as the potential next in line.
“We’re not talking about succession,” says Flake, a long-time specialist on Korean affairs. “We’re talking about the beginning of the process," he says. “I would be equally surprised if they mentioned him or didn’t mention him at all.”
Flake is not even convinced that Kim Jong-il introduced Kim Jong-un to Hu Jintao or that the son accompanied his father on a five-day trip that also featured stops at sites where Kim Il-sung once lived and studied. “I would be very skeptical the North Koreans would trot out the son given the North Korean resistance to kowtowing to the Chinese,” he says. “This was a mission to make sure of Chinese support.”
Such considerations, however, hardly dispel the assumption that Kim Jong-un, who studied at a boarding school in Switzerland, was reputedly a fan of American basketball in his schooldays, and is believed to speak English and French as well as Korean, is on his way to the top.
He’s already reportedly gotten positions within the government and also within the defense establishment, the center of power, which his father controls as chairman of the national defense commission, and he’s reportedly accompanied his father on visits to farms and factories.
What about reports in the foreign media?
Reports, however, have appeared in foreign media. At least one photograph has popped up in a Japanese newspaper said to show the younger Kim at his father’s side. Analysts say, however, the picture may well have been that of a young factory manager.
The best that Scott Snyder, director of the Center for US-Korea Policy at the Asian Foundation, can say is that the party conference is “clearly related to the establishment of an institutional basis for a successful political transition.” After all, says Mr. Snyder, “any coronation of that type will not be sustainable without institutional support from components of the system.”
Snyder wonders, however, how long Kim Jong-un can remain unnamed and unknown to North Koreans. “What’s so odd about this situation is they were making clear references to Kim Jong-il in the 1970s,” he says. The North Korean media in that period referred to him as “the party center” without naming him. Snyder says then the meaning was clear to North Koreans. Like father, like son? “This is obviously a shorter process,” he says.