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Kim Jong-Il’s Youngest Son Climbs North Korea’s Ranks

September 28, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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The youngest son of the ailing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was promoted to a four-star general and also named vice chairman of the Central Military Commission. John Sparks of Independent Television News has more.

JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight: picking a crown prince to run North Korea’s closed society. We start with a report narrated by John Sparks of Independent Television News.

JOHN SPARKS: And now the evening news from Pyongyang — no mention of increased tractor production. Instead, the news reader spoke of a crucial development. The general meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea was under way.

Members of the ruling party have been descending on the capital for the big event, the state broadcaster well-positioned to capture their rather orchestrated arrival.

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, convened a rare general assembly to tackle the trickiest of succession issues, keeping dictatorial power in the family. Outside the hall, the cameras caught the air of celebration, a celebration of continuity, for the dear leader has picked one of his three sons as his likely successor, promoting him to the position of four-star general.

The news was reported with conviction. And here he is, Kim Jong-un, at 11 years old. He was educated at this Swiss school and is now thought to be 26 or 27, but little else is known — this one view from South Korea.

HA TAE-KEUNG, president, Open Radio For North Korea (through translator): He’s young and charismatic. We have heard that he holds meetings and he doesn’t let others talk.

JOHN SPARKS: The founder of North Korea, Kim Il-Sung, also known as the great leader, died in 1994, and his son, Kim Jong Il, the dear leader, took over. But he’s been looking frail of late. He has three sons, Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-chol, and the youngest, Kim Jong-un, now called the young general.

He will be guided or possibly rivaled by the dear leader’s sister, Kim Kyong-hui. She was also made a general today. And her husband, Chang Sung-taek, is regarded as a powerful political figure.

In fact, some say Chang Sung-taek is better positioned to lead because of his relationship with the military. The country is afflicted with chronic food shortages and its nuclear weapons program condemns it to international isolation.