Kim’s heir apparent set for debut in Pyongyang

In this photo released by Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service, delegates to the ruling Worker's Party meeting make their way upon arriving at Pyongyang station, North Korea, on Monday Sept. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service)In this photo released by Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service, delegates to the ruling Worker's Party meeting make their way upon arriving at Pyongyang station, North Korea, on Monday Sept. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service)
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North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party is expected to unveil Kim Jong-il’s third son as the successor to the ailing “Dear Leader” at a rare meeting in Pyongyang on Tuesday.

Analysts and officials knowledgeable about the country readily concede the secretive North is tough to read. Speculation is rife, however, that Mr. Kim’s third son, Kim Jong-un, will be elevated to a position that will put him in line to succeed his father.

Kim Jong-un is 28 years old, and little is known about him besides the fact that he studied in Switzerland and has no political experience.

Victor Cha, who served as director of Asian affairs in the administration of President George W. Bush, said Kim Jong-un could get some sort of formal position at Tuesday’s meeting — either in the Workers’ Party or in the powerful National Defense Commission (NDC), which will mark the beginning of the transition process.

“The safest bet is to assume that it will lead to the assigning of positions that consolidate the current power structure,” said Mr. Cha, who holds the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

**FILE** Kim Jong-il (Associated Press)

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**FILE** Kim Jong-il (Associated Press) more >

Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law and close ally, Jang Sung-taek, who was promoted to the No. 2 position in the NDC this summer, likely will be another beneficiary of this process.

Mr. Jang is expected to serve as regent should Kim Jong-il step down or die while Kim Jong-un burnishes his resume.

The United States and North Korea’s neighbors are watching developments in Pyongyang this week; however, a changing of the guard is unlikely to signal a major shift in relations.

Jae Ku, director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said Kim Jong-un and Mr. Jang are no different from Kim Jong-il. “They won’t do anything that may jeopardize or bring the whole system down,” he said.

Mr. Cha agreed there is nothing in North Korea’s behavior that hints at a positive change.

“The problem about the North Korean system … is, even if you have enlightened leaders, it is a bad system, so it makes bad leaders, and it is very difficult to change that,” he said.

The conference is the first of its kind in three decades. Previous ones were used by Kim Jong-il’s father, Kim Il-sung, to consolidate his grip on power and elevate his son.

Kim Kwang-jin, a former North Korean official who defected, said the meeting will be a turning point.

“We can see the direction of the power transition and the major players, which might affect greatly North Korea’s life in the coming years,” Mr. Kim said.

“Jang’s role as a regent will be very important, and a lot more about him than Kim Jong-un is known to the outside, since he has traveled frequently, visited Seoul, was deeply involved in two South-North summits, very active in fundraising, economic affairs and construction, and as a steersman of all North Korea’s security agencies,” he added.

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About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.

 

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