South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is quite sure of one thing after watching a broadcast of the biggest parade in North Korean history.
“It seems quite clear North Korean leadership is now entering officially into the third generation of Kim rule,” he said Monday, the day after the Pyongyang parade at which North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appeared on the reviewing stand with son and heir Kim Jong-un beside him. South Korea’s government “will be watching very closely whatever transpires in North Korea.”
As far as Mr. Lee is concerned, the Kim dynasty, founded by Kim Jong-il’s father Kim Il-sung and dominated by him for nearly half a century before he died in 1994, will have to demonstrate goodwill toward its own people and the rest of the world before his government will rush to its aid.
“What my government is most interested in is whether North Korean leaders are serious about the nuclear issue, inter-Korean peace and its people’s human rights and happiness,” Lee told foreign correspondents at Blue House, the center of presidential power here.
Lee’s comments, South Korea’s first high-level response to the emergence of Kim Jong-un as his father’s choice to succeed him, reflects South Korean skepticism about the prospects for change after the ailing Kim Jong-il leaves the scene. Lee has refused to provide more than emergency aid to North Korea since his inauguration in February 2008 after a decade in which his two predecessors authorized huge annual gifts of rice and fertilizer in the interests of North-South reconciliation.
Lee promised, however, that he would “respond with an open heart” to any signs of “goodwill” from the North – the kind of remark that he’s made before and that North Korea has routinely spurned in rhetorical outbursts.
Many in South Korea suspect that Kim Song-un, in his late 20’s, is being groomed to perpetuate his father’s “military first” policy of confrontation with South Korea and the United States. The sight of crusty generals, their chests gleaming with medals, on the reviewing stand fortified that view as a panoply of missiles, cannon and tanks, led by goose-stepping soldiers, marched by. The North Korean TV network broadcast the ceremony live and North Korea also gave visas to 80 foreign journalist to cover the event.
The most important military figure on the reviewing stand in Kim Il-sung Square was probably Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, chief of the army’s general staff. Mr. Ri also serve as vice chairman of the military commission of the Workers’ Party -- the same post to which Kim Jong-un was named after his father made him a general of the army.
“The junior Kim has acquired the first major key to take over the military,” wrote Brent Choi, a long-time North Korea analyst for the JoongAng Ilbo, a leading South Korean newspaper. “It’s likely that junior Kim will go on to widen his influence, luring more military (officials) in their 50s and 60s to his side with promotions and other hopeful promises.”
As for Lee Myung-bak, he seemed more confident of his relationship with President Obama than he did of North Korea’s future.
“I enjoy a good relationship with President Obama,” he said. “I consider him as a friend.” Asked about the US commitment to countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – a reference to North Korea’s nuclear program -- Lee said: “I believe in the leadership of President Obama.”
As evidence for Obama's leadership, Lee cited America’s role in encouraging the G20 – consisting of 19 nations and the European Union – to become a global forum for resolving the world’s economic problems.
Lee, who is hosting the G20 meeting that Mr. Obama and other leaders will attend in November, said: “When we look back on the leadership of G20, it has been led by the US.”