North Korea's new dawn with Kim Jong-un
An heir to the North Korean dictatorship is anointed, and begins his rise. Where will Kim Jong-un lead his nation?
Seoul, South Korea
In Pictures Inside North Korea: more circus than bread
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It wasn't that the regime had changed, or that policy had changed. Rather, it was that change was inevitable, eventually, and a new leader was on the tortuous journey to the top.
It was those intimations of mortality that added urgency to selecting an heir and to seeing that he gets the proper training to take over the government and country in a time of severe food shortages, seasonal flooding, and nonstop confrontation with North Korea's historic foes, South Korea and the United States.
The easy part was the anointment of Kim Jong-un – Swiss-educated, reportedly a fan of US pro basketball, the youngest of Kim Jong-il's three sons – first as a general and then as vice chairman of the military commission of the Workers' Party at its annual conference on Sept. 28. Now he's got to learn the job – and chart his course.
Which way will the regime go once Kim Jong-il dies and Kim Jong-un takes charge as the third-generation leader of a dynasty established by his grandfather, the long-ruling Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994? Will the son, no longer a kid after his debut at the party conference, swing toward reconciliation and rapprochement with the North's enemies – or will he want to flex his muscles, to show the generals how tough he is?
Jack Pritchard, for several years the US negotiator trying to persuade North Korea to jettison its nuclear power in favor of several billion dollars in aid, says he believes the time is ripe. Or, as he says, "There are opportunities for a reduction of tension." He goes on: "The transition of power in North Korea to a relatively weaker one" presents "an opportunity."
The danger, says Mr. Pritchard, now president of the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, is that "we're moving toward business as usual" despite the repercussions of South Korea's claim that a Navy corvette, the Cheonan, was sunk in March by a North Korean torpedo, a claim North Korea denies. Pritchard does not advocate a war of vengeance. Rather, with Kim Jong-un now firmly placed as heir, he wants more talking in the quest to get the North to give up its nuclear weapons and reconcile with its enemies.
The 'nuclear card'
But don't count on such a happy scenario – not after North Korea's Pak Kil-yon, the country's ambassador to the United Nations for nearly a decade, followed Kim Jung-un's emergence with the kind of tough talk for which North Korea is known. Far from calling for diplomatic solutions, Mr. Pak said the North's "nuclear deterrent should be strengthened" against the US.