North Korea quickly names 'great successor' after Kim Jong-il's death
North Korea is unlikely to act erratically following the death of Kim Jong-il. All eyes are on heir Kim Jong-un, whose youth and inexperience mean elder statesmen are likely to guide the transition.
South Korea put its troops on alert and Asian stock markets fell on Monday in signs of concern that the sudden death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il could spark instability in his secretive, nuclear-armed nation and beyond.Skip to next paragraph
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Most North Korea-watchers, though, predicted that a dynastic handover of power to Mr. Kim’s youngest son, Kim Jong-un, would lead to few surprises. The younger Kim was quickly named the “Great Successor” to his father, the “Dear Leader,” by Pyongyang’s official news agency, keeping power in Kim family hands for a third generation.
Though Kim Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s, is thought to have been educated in Switzerland, which might have given him a broader perspective than his father or grandfather enjoyed, “in the immediate future there will probably be no change,” says David Kang, head of Korean Studies at the University of Southern California.
The new leader “will keep his head down for the next couple of years and the government will still be run by elder statesmen,” Professor Kang says.
Well-placed Chinese observers agree. “I do not see a big impact on regional security because the personnel situation is under control” since Kim Jong-il announced last year that his son would succeed him, argues Liu Xuecheng, a Korea expert at the China Institute for International Studies, a think tank in Beijing linked to the Foreign Ministry.
China wants stability
At the same time, Professor Liu points out, “power is still concentrated in the military,” which will continue to exert significant influence over North Korean policy, while Pyongyang’s key neighbors – China and Russia – have both indicated their support for the young Kim.
China is especially concerned that its maverick protégé does not get out of hand. “Collapse and chaos would be a worst-case scenario” for Beijing, whose “basic policy is to secure the Korean peninsula’s security and political stability,” says Cai Jian, a North Korea expert at Fudan University in Shanghai.
The prickly North Korean government has long sought to keep Beijing at arm’s length, but in its current dire economic straits, “they will need China more than ever” to see them through the power transition, suggests Scott Snyder, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.