Most fathers give their sons a toy gun. Kim Jong-il, the North Korean ruler has made his youngest son, Kim Jong-eun a four-star General in the Korean People’s Army. This occurred at the first full Workers Party Congress in 30 years where, without the concern for bloc votes from affiliate groups, Kim Jong-il also was unanimously returned as Leader.
Kreminological analysis had been suggesting that the 27 year old former Switzerland-based student was the most likely successor to his hard-drinking, heavy-smoking father. Increasingly, he had been seen joining Dad on factory inspections and walk-abouts, as two older brothers were side-lined: one, Kim Jong-nam had been the presumed favourite until blotting his copybook by being caught taking his own son to Japanese Disneyland on a false passport (and, apparently, surviving an assassination attempt by Kim Jong-eun).
Yet, little evidence of experience or support from internal cliques can be found for Kim Jong-eun: this week’s announcement, like a juju invocation, was the first time his name had been uttered by the State-run KCNA news agency. Similar events were seen in the run-up to Kim Jong-il’s appointment as dauphin at the previous Workers Party Congress in 1980; although he was considerably older than his son is now.
Kim Jong-il already has been reported dead, after a suspected stroke in 2008, and recently received top-notch treatment from a team of French doctors; so there is a fear that if his health problems do catch-up with him, a power struggle would quickly ensue.
(This is not to say that the old goat does not still have a fight left in him. South Korea is due to host the G20 summit in November, and GI Korea discusses suspicions of entirely-in-character disruptions being orchestrated by Pyongyang.)
The recent Workers Party Congress had been delayed by some months. Officially, the reason was the region’s experience of typhoon season (which has been bad).
As reported in the Financial Times, however, delays may have been due to Kim Jong-il’s younger sister, Kim Kyong-hui pressing for the promotion of her own clique which has included her also being appointed as a four-star General. Her husband, Chang Sung-taek recently was made Vice-Chairman of the National Defence Commission which approximates to the second most powerful man in the country.