News / Asia

North Korea's Young Leader Gets New Title

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (File)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (File)
SEOUL — The young man who took the helm of North Korea following his father's death last December has been formally declared the country's top military leader.

North Koreans had been alerted an hour in advance to tune in at noon for important news. The previous time there had been such an announcement was on December 19 last year to announce the death of leader Kim Jong Il.

Kim Jong Un's Rise to Power

September 2010: Promoted to four-star general by his father, Kim Jong Il

December 2011: Kim Jong Il dies of a heart attack, leaving power to relatively inexperienced Kim Jong Un

February 2012: North Korea makes nuclear concessions in exchange for badly needed food aid from U.S.

April 2012: North Korea tries unsucessfully to launch rocket, leading U.S. to cancel food aid deal

May 2012: Pyongyang vows to continue developing its nuclear program, amid concerns it could conduct a third nuclear test

July 2012: Army chief Ri Yong Ho unexpectedly removed from his post because of undisclosed "illness," replaced by obscure general

July 2012: Formally declared head of North Korea's 1.2 million-strong military, effectively completing his succession to power
So anticipation was high, not only in North Korea, when the announcer opened the noon newscast.

The announcer said “a decision was made to award the title of Marshal of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to Kim Jong Un, the supreme commander of the Korean People's Army."

The 45-second announcement was followed by state radio playing the song “We will defend General Kim Jong Un at the Risk of Our Lives.”

Kim is believed to be 29 years of age.

The promotion for Kim, previously named a four-star general and who already holds almost all top military and party positions, comes just days after army chief Ri Yong Ho was removed from all of his posts supposedly due to “illness.”

An obscure general, Hyun Yong Chol, was named Tuesday to replace Ri as vice marshal.

Kim came to power seven months ago following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, who was the son of North Korea's late founder Kim Il Sung.

Kim Jong Il, who was also a marshal, was promoted in February, two months after his death, to generalissimo.

The changes are seen by analysts as an attempt to cement the hold on power by the third generation of the Kim family. But some analysts say the events of the last several days indicate conflict between the ruling family and the military - or even within the military, which has more than one million active personnel, making it the world's fourth largest army.

Baek Seung-joo is a senior researcher at the South Korean government-funded Korea Institute of Defense Analyses.

Baek says he thinks Kim was given the new title to solve issues from internal conflicts in the military and quell complaints or questions about whether he is really able to control the army. Baek adds it is timed to show North Koreans their young leader has absolute power and to demonstrate his status to the outside world.

Rival South Korea has not officially reacted to Kim's military promotion.

The publicly-funded Yonhap news agency, quotes unnamed South Korean officials as saying the decision appears to be an internal matter and no unusual moves by North Korea's army have been detected following the announcement.

Steve Herman

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

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Comment Sorting
by: Lost from: don't know
July 18, 2012 1:52 PM
"Decision was made to award" the new leader the title "Marshal." I must be sleeping for the last one hundred years, but the title is reserved to people with great achievement. Military titles are attained with bravery not awarded for appearance or bloodline.

by: Cả Thộn from: Hà Nội
July 18, 2012 12:13 PM
New man, young man, fresh new ideas may change N.Korea from bad to good. I keep my fringers cross for N.Korea.

by: zzj from: China
July 18, 2012 5:43 AM
Why Kim family can control the North Korea for so many years?I think if the young leader cannot work with the old who help his father settle the issue all the time successfully,it will be very dangerous for the system which the Kim family use to control people.In my opinion,the North Korea cannot advanced rapidly as long as the true democratic system exists.
In Response

by: Anonymous
July 18, 2012 7:10 PM
Deng Xao Ping changed China rapidly.
Deng could do it, young Kim can do it too.

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