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?
(Page 2 of 2)
Lee Sang-hyun of the Sejong Institute, an influential South Korean think tank, explains why North Korea is going to persist in holding the nuclear card in an era of transition and uncertainty in Pyongyang.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Inside North Korea: more circus than bread
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"For succession to proceed in North Korea," he says, "the only inheritance that Kim Jong-il can pass on is its nuclear program."
Indeed, the country is a classic economic basket case, bereft of industry and with a high percentage of its 24 million people always hungry, many starving and diseased. If it has nothing else, at least it has enough nuclear materiel for a dozen warheads, according to intelligence estimates.
An independent son?
But what does the son think? Any chance of an independent outlook?
Most observers say this is not likely as long as Kim Jong-il is alive. The first North Korean video footage of him, shot at the Workers' Party conference at which he got a seat on the central committee as well as vice chairmanship of the military commission, shows him in the front row of an auditorium packed with more than 1,200 delegates. Distinctive in his dark blue Mao suit, he applauds dutifully, unsmiling, along with everyone else, as his father waves from center stage.
As of now, there's no way for Kim Jong-un to change policy even if he wanted to. He's constantly guarded by a core group handpicked by his father. The generals and Politburo members around him are not going to let him get out of line, any more than they would let anyone get close enough to threaten his life.
North Korea's propaganda machine is also building him up as a tough guy, hence the persistent rumors that he ordered the attack on the Cheonan. "The purpose of this association is to create an instant legend around Kim Jong-un's military prowess," says Pritchard. Not that he was "involved," he adds. Rather, "once the military action was successful, credit can be appropriately bestowed on the younger Kim."
Much will depend on how Kim Jong-un responds to the "protection" afforded by Kim Jong-il's right-hand man, brother-in-law Jang Song-thaek, and Mr. Jang's wife, Kim's younger sister, Kim Kyong-hui. The aunt, a diminutive, stern-looking woman, is there in the picture, in uniform. She is also a newly minted general.
It's hard to believe Kim Jong-un will want to stay forever under the thumb of this aging couple. It's possible, eventually, he will find soul mates among the generals, who may turn him against the excessive influence of his aunt and her husband.
Not that an internal power struggle would change basic policy much.
"North Korea's goal is to survive," says Kim Jin-moo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. "The survival strategy is to become a nuclear state, to expand, to heighten the military standoff between the two Koreas."
In the much studied picture of the North's heir apparent, Kim Jong-un looks poker-faced as the crowd around him roars its endorsement for his father. He doesn't seem the type to reverse course. But after the death of his father? Only then, it's said, will we come to know if the son has a mind of his own.