North Korea’s new prospective leader

The process of succession has begun in North Korea as Kim Jong-un, youngest son of present leader Kim Jong-il, has been given the status of heir apparent.

Within a few hours, Kim Jong-un assumed the position of vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Worker’s Party, became a member of the Central Committee and was given the rank of a four-star general.

The sudden rise of Kim Jong-un is thought to be the result of Kim Jong-il’s ailing health, who may have suffered a stroke in 2008.

It is believed that this shift in leadership is an attempt to affirm party control over the military, a move that may be backed by China.

The BBC reported that there has been a clear indication that China would like for North Korea to follow in its footsteps, developing in the same way that it had in the 1970s and 80s. In China this development lead to party control over the military and a gradual move towards a market economy.

Alistair Edgar, professor at Wilfrid Laurier and director of ACUNS, explained that China has “geostrategic reasons for supporting the succession process in North Korea.”

“[This includes] avoiding instability in a fragile neighbour that has nuclear weapons, retaining that same neighbour as a buffer state against South Korean influence along its borders, [and] avoiding the potential for a flood of North Korean refugees across the border into China,” said Edgar. “What Beijing wants at minimum is stability in its neighbour.”

Kim Jong-un, who is believed to be around 27 years old, was educated in Switzerland.

Jong-un’s lack of political and military experience is worrisome, as he is set to take control of a country with nuclear weapons, vast economic problems and tense foreign relations.

It is suggested however that his uncle Chang Song-teak would act as a regent to Jong-un until he is prepared to rule on his own.

According to Edgar, Song-teak and his wife “bring with them blood ties, marriage ties and power or respect from experience and age.”

“Kim Jong-Un likely will be the weaker of the three players in that triumvirate, though of course we seem to know very little about his real character and strength,” he concluded.