- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2009

SEOUL| North Korea appears to be accelerating a process of succession to ailing leader Kim Jong-il, although South Korean media reports that Mr. Kim’s third son has officially been named appear premature.

Yonhap newswire reported that two South Korean lawmakers on the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee had been informed by Seoul’s National Intelligence Service that Kim Jong-un has been named as successor to his father.

Two influential South Korean dailies, the Dong-a Ilbo, and Hankook Ilbo, likewise reported that the younger Mr. Kim was named successor after last week’s nuclear test, and a song praising him was being taught in schools.

However, there has been no official announcement from Pyongyang, which is a source of skepticism among some analysts.


Kim Jong-un’s name has not cropped up in official propaganda and — in defiance of predictions of many in South Korea — he was not named on any ballots in the March elections to Pyongyang’s Supreme People’s Assembly, a rubber-stamp parliament.

There were unconfirmed reports, however, that he has been named to the National Defense Commission, the most powerful body in the country.

The South Korean government declined comment, but the influential Joongang Ilbo newspaper cited a government source as saying, “There has not been any official nominating process in Pyongyang.”

The most important person next to Kim Jong-il appears to be his brother-in-law, Chang Sung-taek, who may serve as a sort of regent to the young Mr. Kim, who is thought to be 26 or 27.

Since last summer, when Kim Jong-il is said to have suffered a stroke, Mr. Chang has been consistently mentioned in propaganda, has joined the National Defense Committee and has been named frequently in connection with Kim Jong-il.

Several North Korea watchers said they were skeptical about the reports regarding Mr. Kim’s son.

“The Pyongyang regime places a lot of value on the credibility of its media and propaganda apparatus: This is why they admit that they had a famine in the 1990s, and why they now admit that South Korea is richer than North Korea,” said Brian Myers, a specialist on North Korean propaganda at Dongseo University. “What would they have to gain from keeping the succession secret? They just don’t hide information like this. Kim Jong-il started to be groomed from the early 1970s.”

Kim Jong-il was prepared for power by his father, Kim Il-sung, beginning in 1974 and took power after his father’s death in 1994. Recently arrived North Korean defectors, speaking to foreign reporters at a deprogramming center in South Korea last week, said that they had not been aware that their “Dear Leader” had any other sons apart from his eldest, Kim Jong-nam. This son, 38, is believed to live in Macau. He was disgraced when caught attempting to enter Japan to visit a local Disneyland on a false passport in 2001.

Mr. Kim’s second son, Kim Jong-chol is considered “girlish” by his father, according to the memoirs of Kenji Fujimoto, a Japanese sushi chef who worked in the Kim household from 1988-2001, and who published a book about his experiences in 2003.

Kim Jong-un, Mr. Kim’s second son from his third marriage, is said to resemble his father more than any of the other sons. According to Swiss press reports, Jong-un studied in an international school in Berne, Switzerland, under a pseudonym until the age of 15. His mother, Ko Young-hi, died in 2004.

If the succession reports prove correct, it could make sense of the recent belligerence from Pyongyang: a ballistic missile launch in April, followed by last week’s nuclear test, short-range missile launches and continuing vitriol.

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