28 Sep 2010

North Korea: Kim Jong-il’s son promoted

Kim Jong-il’s youngest son is appointed a general amid rumours he could take his father’s place as dynastic successor. Nick Paton Walsh looks at the potential change at the top of the secretive state.

Kim Jong-il’s youngest son, Kim Jong-un, was given his first public title with his appointment as general in a move analysts say points to succession in the secretive state of North Korea.

At the rare ruling part meeting the leader’s sister was also appointed to general in one of the world’s largest armies. State news agency KCNA said the ‘dear leader’ had issued a directive bestowing military rank on six people.

Kim Jong-il, 68, is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008, but remains in power despite declining health. His grip on power was underlined by his reappointment on Tuesday as secretary-general of the Workers’ Party.

Little is known about his youngest son Kim Jong-un, who is believed to be aged 28, beyond knowledge of him time studying in Switzerland. His appointment is thought to be the first time he has been named in state media.

Succession speculation
It is the sort of move we expected him to make in preparation for his long-awaited dynastic handover, writes Asia Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh.

Kim's father was the Eternal leader, until he died, and Kim the most Jr - whose experience of the West includes time at a Swiss boarding school and a liking for Michael Jordan - is tipped to take over.State TV glossed over Kim's lack of military experience when announcing his elevation to the rank of four star general. They did say a major development was underway. Further details were not supplied and were not needed. We know what's coming and can visualise the splendidly absurd parades to boot.

Humour has a habit of becoming the stock response to NK's extremes of totalitarian excess.It is so other worldly, so disconnected from its population's slow starvation and decline, that is it comedy over tragedy.

Read more on the World News Blog

Experts say his son is too young and inexperienced to fully take the reins.

“As expected, the dynastic transition is becoming public. So far, they are following the pattern we saw in the 1970s when Kim Jong-il himself was moving to become the new dear leader,” said Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University.

“The difference is that this time they seem to be in a great hurry.”

The party conference was the biggest meeting of its kind for 30 years. The last such meeting put Kim, then aged 38, on the path to succeed his father Kim Il-sung, the state founder and now its eternal president, by taking on a Workers’ Party title.