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, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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 Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid