Questions Arise Anew Over North Korean Leader's Possible Successor
News of the naming of a possible successor began in the summer of 2008 when Jong-Il did not appear at any official events commemorating the country’s 60th anniversary, however no formal announcement was made. A similar situation arose last summer when rumblings began in June that Jong-Il’s youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, would be named as successor, but again, no official word came out of North Korea.
Last week, the buzz began anew.Jong-Il traveled to China in late August to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Some believe the trip was intended to get the Chinese government’s blessing on Jong-Un. Then the Worker’s Party Conference was announced, to coincide with the country’s 62nd anniversary (September 9th). This might not seem like news, as the North Korean constitution states this conference is to take place every 5 years; however, it has been 30 years since the last conference. Jong-Il was named successor to the Great Leader, Kim Il Sung at the 1980 conference.
Not surprisingly, little is known about Jong-Un. He is believed to be 27 or 28 years old and was reportedly educated in Switzerland. That’s where the information trail seemingly ends.
No one knows what kind of a leader he will be. One thing is for certain: should Jong-Un succeed his father, he will inherit a country in dire financial straits. Will he continue the country’s quest for nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction? Will he ease the tensions that have arisen between North and South Korea in the last year? The optimistic answers would be no and yes, but there’s been little room for optimism in the last 60 years where North Korea is concerned.
Internationally speaking, the hope is that a young, Western-educated leader will break through the strong red curtain that has insulated North Korea for six decades, but there is little evidence this will be the case. All the signs seem to point to the status quo being maintained, at least for the near future.
There is a possible ray of hope, though. Many of the ruling generals/advisors are aged. Who will take their positions? True to form, no one really knows.
The Obama administration hasn’t said much about the latest news coming out of the Korean peninsula. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the Council on Foreign Relations on September 8th and while she didn’t mention the potential leadership news in her speech, she was asked about the North Korea succession speculation during a question and answer session. This was her response:
“We're watching the leadership process and don't have any idea yet how it's going to turn out. But the most important issue for us is trying to get our six-party friends, led by China, to work with us to try to convince who's ever in leadership in North Korea that their future would be far better served by denuclearizing.”
Only time will tell if a denuclearized North Korea will come to fruition. For the sake of the planet, let’s hope it does.
Contact Reporter Christine Detz here.