North Korea’s ailing leader, Kim Jong-il, has taken steps to ensure the succession of his family dynasty by appointing his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as his second in command. The ruling Workers’ Party, which opened its first party conference in 30 years on Tuesday, September 28, also reappointed Kim Jong-il as secretary-general. For now, Jong-il, North Korea’s dictator since 1994, remains in charge. But the rapid promotion of Jong-un is a clear indication, according to observers, that he is the heir apparent to his 68-year-old father, whose health is worsening.
This week Kim Jong-un was given various honors and titles—four-star army general, Central Committee member, and vice chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission. Other longtime loyal family members were also promoted to leadership posts, including Kim Jong-il’s sister and her husband, possibly in an attempt to ensure a smooth succession to a third generation of the Kim family (in the Korean language, surnames are given first).
Very little is known about Jong-un, not even his actual birthday. Uncertainty has outsiders guessing what changes this political intrigue may bring. Will the son continue the hard-line anticapitalist, antiglobalization policies of his father that have left the country poor and isolated? Some analysts fear that the son, who is being called the “youth captain” or “young leader,” may push out opponents and instigate provocative military acts in a show of strength. The greatest fears are that the government of North Korea could collapse, triggering a refugee crisis or possible fighting. Such events not only would be harmful to the country but could destabilize the region of East Asia, which is of tremendous importance to the global economy.
Image © AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service
- North Korean Leader’s Son Unveiled, Seen as Successor
This in-depth Web page includes an article discussing the preparations for dynastic succession in North Korea, as well as a slideshow on North Korea’s dynasty, recent photos, a Factbox on Kim Jong-il, a video on his son, and related articles.
(Source: Reuters, September 28, 2010)
- North Korean Supreme Leader’s Son Elevated to Key Posts
This article recounts the events related to the ruling dynasty in North Korea, noting reactions in both South Korea and the United States; includes a photo gallery.
(Source: VOA News, September 29, 2010)
- North Korea: Pity the Son of Kim Jong Il
This opinion piece weighs the situation that faces Kim Jong-un should he become North Korea’s leader.
(Source: globalpost.com, September 27, 2010)
- Korea, North
This Web page of the U.S. State Department contains a map of North Korea and links to discussions of important diplomatic measures and negotiations and other aspects of U.S. foreign policy toward North Korea.
(Source: U.S. Department of State; accessed September 30, 2010)
Critical Thinking Questions
- Explain Why is it so difficult to be certain about events and developments in North Korea?
- Make Inferences Why might outside observers view a change in the leadership of North Korea with concern?
- Form and Support Opinions Why do you think North Korea has continued to be so isolated from the rest of the world?