The son also rises

Los Angeles Times - - Opinion -

The top lead­er­ship of the Work­ers’ Party in North Korea meets once ev­ery 30 years whether it needs to or not. The congress that opened Tues­day is the party’s high­est-level assem­bly since 1980, and seems to have been called to anoint a suc­ces­sor to “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il — pre­sum­ably his youngest son, Kim Jong Eun. The lit­tle Dear, who is twen­tysome­thing, was pro­moted just be­fore the meet­ing to the mil­i­tary rank of four-star gen­eral, ac­cord­ing to the coun­try’s of­fi­cial news me­dia, which also hap­pen to be the only news me­dia in Kim-con­trolled North Korea. And that’s about all we know of the events tak­ing place in Py­ongyang, in a global in­for­ma­tion age when far too much is com­mu­ni­cated about things that don’t mat­ter, while dan­ger­ously lit­tle is avail­able on the nu­clear Her­mit King­dom and its next-of-Kim.

This page is not en­am­ored of fam­ily dy­nas­ties, and even less so when the heir to the dic­ta­tor­ship is an enigma. There are a cou­ple of child­hood pho­to­graphs of Jung Eun, who re­port­edly stud­ied in Switzer­land, sup­pos­edly is tem­per­a­men­tal, likes bas­ket­ball and, ac­cord­ing to the fam­ily’s for­mer sushi chef, “never ad­mits de­feat.” Korea-watch­ers be­lieve he wouldn’t make ma­jor changes in the way the govern­ment deals with the rest of the world, which is to say that he would main­tain its ad­her­ence to juche, or self-re­liance, through closed bor­ders and a closed econ­omy, and would con­tinue its nu­clear brinkman­ship. Un­less he feels the need to prove his met­tle, in which case he could be even more bel­li­cose than his fa­ther. Or so it is said. At the last party meet­ing, Kim Jong Il was de­clared the suc­ces­sor to his fa­ther, “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung. When he took the reins in 1994, skep­tics said he’d never last. Now the same is said about the lit­tle Dear, whose aunt also was made a gen­eral this week, pre­sum­ably so that she and her hus­band, who is vice chair­man of the Na­tional De­fense Com­mis­sion, could serve as re­gents to the in­ex­pe­ri­enced next leader.

It is truly re­mark­able how lit­tle out­siders un­der­stand about this coun­try of about 24 mil­lion peo­ple, who are as cut off from us as we are from them. China helps prop up the regime as a buf­fer be­tween it­self and the tens of thou­sands of U.S. troops in South Korea, and out of fear that the col­lapse of the Py­ongyang govern­ment could send mil­lions of refugees across their shared border. Asian mar­kets also pre­fer sta­bil­ity over sud­den change or, worse, un­rest. The fam­ily dy­nasty mixes fa­vors, ide­ol­ogy and ruth­less­ness to main­tain its grip on power. North Kore­ans, mean­while, suf­fer the regime’s eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion in a coun­try that of­fers lit­tle in­for­ma­tion even to its own peo­ple.

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