9.27.2010

Significance in NoKo

So Kim Jong-un, third son of Kim Jong-il, has been made a general at the tender age of probably 27:
But analysts said it was still uncertain whether the younger Kim would lead the country following his father's death, and if so how independent he would be. They portrayed his current situation as effectively a probation period.

In its first ever mention of Kim Jong-un, state news agency KCNA said the 26- or 27-year-old had been given the rank of general.

"He will be the crown prince. That's it. There is no doubt," said Dr Kongdan Oh of the Brookings Institute. But she added: "The father provides a halo effect – the question is what happens when Kim Jong-il dies. That will be an interesting time."
There are a few important things going on here. The first is that young Kim was appointed to the military. I most certainly do not know the internal workings of North Korea, but in most similar countries, there are real cleavages between party and military. Reformists seemed to have been taking up leadership roles in advance of this Party meeting. It may have been necessary to win over the military, or at least exert more control over them, by giving Kim Jong-un a military position. On the other hand, the military is undoubtedly a major focus for North Korea, and every generation of Kim has come up through that institution.

But there is speculation that the new Kim may ultimately remain a figurehead, while some of the reformists form a ruling coalition. This would present major difficulties for the country, as it would really allow factions to come into play and compete perhaps more openly than they had until now. If his father dies soon -- as seems to be expected, given numerous reports of ill health -- the son will have had little time to build a power base and loyalty of his own. That leaves him in a position in which he could have to concede some power to other groups -- and possibly creating a vacuum of power into which other interests may step. Such a precarious position may make the North more defensive in the short term (it's no coincidence that the country will hold its largest military parade to date at the close of this conference).

Chinese support will remain a major factor for the country, of course, and how Beijing handles its relations with Pyongyang will continue to be a test.