News / Asia

After Kim's Death, More Questions Than Answers

New North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un pays respects to his father and former leader Kim Jong Il, Pyongyang, Dec. 20, 2011.
New North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un pays respects to his father and former leader Kim Jong Il, Pyongyang, Dec. 20, 2011.

The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il raises numerous concerns about what is really happening in the impoverished country, considered the world's most-reclusive. VOA's Northeast Asia Correspondent Steve Herman, who has lived in the region for most of the past 20 years, fields reader queries via Twitter and Facebook.

Q: Are there any indications Kim Jong Un has received training to lead North Korea? (via Twitter)

A: Yes. It is apparent Kim Jong Un had been groomed by his father over a period of perhaps several years to eventually succeed him. The first hints that Kim Jong Il had chosen his Swiss-educated son (over two of Jong Un's older brothers) emerged in early 2009.

Kim Jong Il may have felt more urgency to groom an heir-apparent after suffering a stroke in 2008. But the younger Kim's status was not clearly indicated until the latter part of last year when he was made a military general and appointed to other high military and political posts in the authoritarian country.

Outsiders who have met the younger Kim describe him as listening intently and soft spoken. Some analysts say they expect Jong Un to demonstrate he can be ruthless and purge some senior figures to solidify his own grip on power, much as his father did after he took the helm.

While many express doubt that such a young and inexperienced inheritor can effectively lead a very troubled country as North Korea, it is worth noting that the same misgivings were expressed about Kim Jong Il when he took over after the death of his father, Kim Il Sung. However, Jong Il was older - in his early 50's - when he assumed leadership, and had many more years to prepare than did Kim Jong Un.

Q: Is Kim Jong Un going to be able to lead or will the military attempt a coup? (via Twitter)

A: Initial indications from North Korea project a united front under Kim Jong Un, who was quickly deemed the "Great Successor."

Since North Korea's inception, the Kim family and the military leadership have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. The upper echelon of the Korean People's Army receives special privileges from the political leadership under tight control of the Kims and, in exchange, the Kims have been able to count on the military's loyalty. Indeed Kim Jong Il's primary policy was "songun" (military first).

Kim Jong Un may find it prudent to extend that policy, especially considering that in September, 2010, he was made a four-star general despite no apparent military experience.

Q: Why did it take North Korea two days to release the news of Kim Jong Il's death? (via Facebook)

A: Such delays seem to be the rule rather than the exception in revealing the deaths of absolute rulers in countries where the state controls all media.

When Kim Il Sung, North Korea's founder and Kim Jong Il's father, died in 1994, the announcement came 34 hours after the time that North Korea said he had succumbed. But in the case of Kim Jong Il the government waited 52 hours based on the timeline provided by North Korean media. But there was also a reference in the death announcement to a supposed internal notification of Kim's death on December 17. Some Western intelligence analysts suggest this indicates the leadership may have been wracked with uncertainty about how to handle the stunning message.

Q: How old was Kim Jong Il? (via Twitter)

A: He was either 69 or 70. North Korea has long listed his official birth date as February 16, 1942 and says Kim was born on revered Mt. Paekdu in Japanese-occupied Korea. Soviet records, however, indicate he was born in Siberia in 1941.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More