News / Asia

Kim Jong Un: North Korea's Leader-in-Waiting

There are no indications that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's likely successor, his youngest son Kim Jong Un, will be taking power anytime soon.  At 27 years of age, he is still considered too young and inexperienced.

However, if all the reports filtering out of North Korea are accurate, Jong Un appears to be on a fast track to succeeding his ailing father.  He is several years younger than his father was when he was designated as North Korea's future leader.

The younger Kim's name surfaced in early 2009 as the likely third member of the world's only communist dynasty.  Since then, officials have been told to pledge loyalty to Jong Un and to study his accomplishments.  He has been portrayed to school children as the prime mover behind an effort last year to revive the North Korean economy.  And his birthday has been designated a public holiday.

Some analysts think a ruling party conference to be held next week will officially confirm Jong Un's status as leader-in-waiting.

Kim Jong Un is said to have attended a Swiss boarding school not far from the North Korean embassy in Bern.  While there, he learned to speak English, French and German.  Friends and staff at the school remember that he enjoyed skiing and basketball.  They said he especially admired U.S. basketball great Michael Jordan.

Kim Jong Il has three sons.  Jong Un is the second son of Mr. Kim's third wife, Ko Yong Hi, who reportedly died in 2004 of breast cancer.

Mr. Kim had been expected to appoint his eldest son, Jong Nam, to succeed him.  But Jong Nam lost favor in 2001 when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a faked passport.

The second son, Jong Chol, is said to be regarded as too feminine and unfit for leadership.

Last year, Kim Jong Il promoted his brother-in-law Jang Song Thaek to the powerful National Defense Commission, in effect making him the second-in-command.  Analysts say Jang likely would be a caretaker leader in the event that Mr. Kim died before his youngest son was deemed ready to take power.

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