News / Asia

Possible North Korean Leadership Succession is in Place

Important moves have been made in North Korea ahead of the ruling party's biggest gathering in 30 years.  The youngest son of ruler Kim Jong Il has reportedly been named a general.

North Korea's official media say Kim Jong Un has been named a general, widely seen as a move to place him in line to succeed his father.  Observers have been speculating for the past few years about who might emerge as the next leader of the reclusive nation.  Katy Oh is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

"It is one of the greatest dramas unfolding," said Katy Oh. "It is unprecedented in history because this is basically dynastic feudalism."

She says the younger Kim has been working in the influential Workers Party Bureau of Organization and Guidance.

"This is the bureau within the party that hires, fires, kills, promotes, demotes over every elite in the party system," she said. "The young Kim was working there.  But finally appointing him as a general, together with his aunt and uncle and also one of the uncle's confidants, basically they are creating the regency behind him because he is too young.  But he is now basically anointed the crown prince."

Many believe a powerful post also will go to Kim Jong Il's sister, Kim Kyong Hui, or her powerful husband, Jang Song Taek.  Either one might be trusted to hold power if anything happens to the ailing Kim Jong Il before his son is ready to take charge.  Kim Jong Un is only in his 20s.

Former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill, now Dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, says that the next transfer of power in North Korea is a tricky step.

"To pass power onto a third generation is always more difficult than the second generation," said Christopher Hill. "And I think we have not seen signs that Kim Jong Un has been particularly groomed for a leadership the way his father was over the course of many years under Kim Il Sung."

Kim Jong Il is widely believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008, and he appeared frail in photographs taken during meetings with foreign officials in the past few months.  

The Workers' Party has not had a full party congress since 1980, and the conference of delegates has not met since 1966.  Analysts expect the delegates will fill a number of vacant posts and name younger officials to replace some elderly members.

Next month, the party marks the 65th anniversary of its founding.  


Jim Stevenson

For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

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