North Korea’s New ‘Dear Leader’

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On 15 January 2009 South Korean news agency Yonhap reported North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had tapped his third son to be his successor and sent his nomination to the leadership of the ruling party. The reportedly ailing Kim Jong-il “delivered a directive around January 8 that he has named [Kim] Jong-un as his successor to the leadership of the Workers’ Party,” Yonhap quoted a well-informed source as saying on condition of anonymity. Yonhap said Jong-un’s nomination was completely unexpected in North Korea, even among the Worker’s Party leadership, and was most likely driven by Kim Jong-il’s rapidly deteriorating health. Kim Jong-un, now 25, was born to Kim Jong-il’s third wife, Ko Yong-hi, who died of breast cancer at the age of 51 in 2004. According to Yonhap, the youngest of Kim’s three sons, Jong-un was educated at the International School of Berne and is a fan of NBA basketball.

Kim Jong-chul’s younger brother Kim Jong-un / Kim Jong-woong / Kim Jung-woon was apparently born in the 1983 to 1985 timeframe, though accounts are in conflict. Indeed, as of May 2001 the BBC was unaware of the fact of the existence of this individual. Kim Jong-Ils youngest son also may be in the running for succession, though Kim Jong-chul would normally be favored because he is the elder.

Writing under his pen name, Kenji Fujimoto, a Japanese sushi chef who worked for Kim Jong-il for 13 years wrote a best-selling memoir, “I Was Kim Jong Il’s Cook.” Specialists following North Korea characterize Fujimoto’s accounts as being credible. According to one account, “Fujimoto said, Kim would often bemoan that Kim Jong Chul, his 23-year old son, would never rule because he had turned out to be “like a girl.” Fujimoto said Kim doted on his youngest son — Kim Jong Woon, 18, who looks like the North Korean leader.” According to one rumor, Koh Yong Hee had ordered the Workers Party and high officials to call Jong-Woon the “Morning Star King”.

In August 2004, international speculation regarding the North Korean succession increased due to reports in the South Korean press that Koh Yong Hee had died. Her favored position with Kim Jong-il, and her status among the North Korean armed forces had previously seemed to constitute tools to help entrench the authority and ensure the succession of one of her Kim Jong-il-sired sons – Kim Jong Chol and Kim Kong Woon. However, if reports of her death are true, some speculate that not only will this process be much more difficult, it may even open an opportunity for the shamed Kim Jong Nam to reassert his claim on the future leadership.

The communist acorn didn’t fall far from the tree. Don’t expect a big regime change.

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