N. Korean leader’s son is promoted
The mysterious Kim Jong Eun becomes a four-star general but is not yet designated as successor to his father.
Twenty-something Kim Jong Eun becomes a four-star general but is not yet designated as successor to his father, Kim Jong Il.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s youngest son has been named a four-star general, a promotion that paved the way for his advance in the ranks but stopped short of installing him as next in line to run the impoverished communist country.
On Monday, the eve of a rare congress of the ruling Workers’ Party in Pyongyang, the official Korea Central News Agency announced the appointment of Kim Jong Eun, a mysterious figure who is believed to be 27 years old and to have been educated in Switzerland.
The announcement was the first time the North Korean regime has publicly uttered the name of the man heir apparent to the dynasty begun by his grandfather Kim Il Sung after World War II. His photograph, resume and even the spelling of his name have been deemed state secrets.
The decision did not end speculation, however, about the future. Kim Jong Il, 68, is believed to be ill.
“This is just the first step in the succession process. As long as Kim Jong Il is alive, nobody knows how the other parties are going to react,” said Gordon Flake, executive director of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation think tank.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell told reporters in Washington that the Obama administration was “watching developments carefully” to interpret the significance of the announcement.
Besides Kim Jong Eun, five others were named generals. Among them was Kim Kyong Hui, Kim Jong Il’s 64year-old sister, who long has been considered the leader’s closest family confidant. Her husband, Jang Song Taek, is a powerful figure in his own right with extensive family ties in the military. Jang was promoted in June to be vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, which is headed by Kim Jong Il.
The appointment of Kim Jong Eun suggests that Kim Jong Il is trying to prevent internal squabbling.
In a syndicated column this month, Yuriko Koike, a former Japanese defense minister and national security advisor, suggested that Kim Jong Il might name his sister to serve as a caretaker until his son is able to fully assume power.
“North Korea is a Confucian country and people were concerned Kim Jong Eun was too young. They need to have the older face of Kim Kyong Hui next to his,” said Brent Choi, a longtime North Korea analyst who now reports for Voice of America.
Kim Kyong Hui recently has been seen with her brother in public. “Kim Jong Il is very proud of her,” said Jang Sung-min, a former South Korean lawmaker who wrote a book on the North Korean leader. “And she is a very attractive person to the North Koreans, as well. She is like a strong man with a strong character.”
Another of the newly promoted generals is Choe Ryong Hae, a top party official whose father was said to have fought together with Kim Il Sung as an anti-Japanese guerrilla.
Kim Jong Eun is believed to be the youngest son of Kim Jong Il and his late consort, Ko Young Hee, a dancer who died in 2004. The young man and an older brother, Kim Jong Chol, attended
‘They told us all about the successor and we were very happy. People believe he will be smarter and will bring the country new perspectives.’
— Jeong Hee Ok,
North Korean woman
Swiss schools in the 1990s while posing as children of North Korean diplomats.
After three years in a German-speaking public school near Bern, Switzerland, Kim Jong Eun returned to North Korea in 2000. He is believed to have obtained two degrees, one in physics at Kim Il Sung University and another at the Kim Il Sung Military Academy. According to defector groups in Seoul, he has been in the military for about three years and may have previously held the rank of three-star general.
Although his name has not appeared in the news media, North Koreans have been lectured in mandatory ideological sessions for at least one year about the brilliant “young general.”
“For the 21st century, we need a leader who is young and vibrant and full of spirit.... The party happens to have a young leader in mind who possesses those kinds of qualities,” read one lecture, the contents of which was obtained by Korean Intellectuals Solidarity, a Seoul-based defector group.
A 28-year-old North Korean woman living in China said people had been told that Kim Jong Eun had been living under cover for years as he was being groomed for the leadership.
“They say he was three years in the military in the toughest region of the country. He lived like everybody else; they didn’t have much food. He saw the system from the inside and will help fix it,” said the woman, who gave her name as Su-jong, interviewed in the border city of Yanji this year.
Jeong Hee Ok, a woman in her 50s from Hamhung, North Korea, said she had first heard about Kim Jong Eun late last year in a party lecture.
“They told us all about the successor and we were very happy,” Jeong said. “People believe he will be smarter and will bring the country new perspectives.”
Many North Korean defectors believe that Kim Jong Il had to slow down plans to name Kim Jong Eun his successor because of criticism inside and out.
Food shortages, a botched currency overhaul and diplomatic isolation resulting from the country’s nuclear weapons program and the sinking of a South Korean military ship blamed on Pyongyang have chipped away at the absolute obedience once commanded by the regime.
KIM JONG EUNKenji Fujimoto
The only confirmed photo of the younger Kim is one of him as a child.