North Korea: heir unapparent

In Pyongyang on October 10th, North Korea extended a surprise invitation to the world’s media to pry in on a major military parade, marking the 65th anniversary of its Workers’ Party. A rare event in a state veiled from view of the West, its intention was less to showcase the nation’s might of missiles and goose-stepping soldiers, but that of one young débutant, a fresh-faced Kim Jong-un.

A dictator-in-waiting; the youngest son of the ailing leader Kim Jong-Il took centre stage beside his father applauding and saluting the martial procession before him. State television assured such events achieved blanket coverage to the screens of the 22 million Koreans the regime controls. However, astride a private Swiss education and a suspected age of around twenty-seven, very little is known of the heir apparent. Distinct from its usual shadowy methods, this time the government’s motives of Kim Jong-un’s unveiling are crystal clear.

Having been appointed to a four star general last month and to second in command on the regime’s Central Military Commission the young Kim’s sudden rise to prominence has signalled dynastic succession to be increasingly likely. Kim Jong-Il, 68, is widely suspected to have suffered a stroke in 2008 and his increasing frailty; seen reaching to the balcony for support during the parade has cemented the party’s concern with consolidating the future. Nevertheless his startling rise to the upper echelons of the party is at odds with the meticulous twenty year grooming Kim Jong-Il received before taking the mantle on the death of his predecessor, the ‘eternal’ President Kim Il-Sung in 1994.

The party’s inner circle has wasted no time in calming the nerves of a hierarchy sceptical of an inexperienced leader. Kim Jong-Il’s sister, Kim Kyong Hui has been promoted to four star general and her husband Chang Sung-Taek was in June instated as vice chairman of the National Defence Commission; a role only inferior to the leader himself. This dramatic reshuffling of the politburo, buttressed by the powerful duumvirate is a clear foil to coerce and commit young Kim to further dynastic rule. Lamentably, this may limit his ability to pursue a mandate of modernisation if desired, removing the shackles that have bound North Korea to oppressive communism since its founding sixty years ago.

China, a solitary ally and crucial provider of food and fuel aid to the nuclear-armed state has a vested interest in such smooth succession of power on Jong-Il’s death. If internal tensions within the status quo do reach a brutal peak the state could fall apart, resulting in a protracted refugee crisis that could impose severe strains on China and neighbours Japan and South Korea. Though the prospect of the destitute country ravaged by famine being split by warring factions is improbable, it could fall into opportunistic imperialist hands such as the USA. This to China would be anathema, posing a threat to its worldwide hegemony in its own backyard.

Only time will tell if this unknown princeling will buckle under the weight of legacy he is soon to inherit. Nevertheless once his posters are plastered on the walls of Pyongyang by the state’s propaganda machine it will be impossible to question his legitimacy.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.