Kim Jong Il Reportedly Taps Youngest Son as Heir, South Korean Media Say
Two newspapers and an opposition lawmaker said South Korea’s
National Intelligence Service spy agency briefed legislators on the move as the
rival Koreas bolstered military presence along their disputed sea border.
The communist regime sent a message about succession plans
to its diplomatic missions right after its May 25 nuclear test and demanded
diplomats pledge allegiance to Kim’s 26-year-old third son, Jong Un, the
Hankook Ilbo reported, according to wire services.
The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper published a similar report, saying
the North is teaching its people a song lauding the son. It cited unnamed
“I was notified by the South Korean government of such
moves and the loyalty pledges,” Park Jie-won, a member of the opposition
Democratic Party, said in a statement, according to Reuters.
Analysts believe that Kim Jong Il, whose power base stems
from military support, may be using the growing tension over his regime’s
nuclear and missile tests to give him greater leverage to nominate his own
Who will eventually rule the North has been the focus of
intense media speculation since leader Kim, 67, reportedly suffered a stroke
last summer. That sparked regional concerns about instability and a possible
power struggle if he died without naming a successor. It has also raised alarms
in the region over how far the secretive ruler may be prepared to take his
latest military grandstanding.
Even by the opaque standards for North Korea, little is
known about the son, whose youth is a potential predicament in a society that
greatly exalts the importance of seniority.
Kim Jong Un, born either in 1983 or early 1984, studied at
the International School of Berne in Switzerland and intelligence sources have
said he appears to be the most capable of Kim’s three known sons. While
studying in Switzerland like his brothers, he avoided Western influences,
returning home when not in school or eating with the North Korean ambassador,
the BBC reported.
Kim Jong Il’s former sushi chef, a Japanese man writing
under the pseudonym Kenji Fujimoto, said in his memoir that the son looks and
acts just like his father and is the leader’s favorite.
Leader Kim has three known sons by two women. The eldest
son, Jong Nam, 38, had long been considered the favorite to succeed his father
— until he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001. He
reportedly told Japanese officials he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
Kim considers the middle son, Jong Chol, too effeminate for
the job, according to the sushi chef’s 2003 memoir.
Kim Jong Un’s mother, Ko Yong Hui, was thought to be the
leader’s favorite wife, and she clearly doted on her son, reportedly calling
him the “Morning Star King.” Fujimoto also claimed that Jong Un was
his father’s favorite.
Fujimoto said Jong Un is the “spitting image” of
his father, but the young Kim has never been photographed by the Western media,
according to the BBC. The only known photograph is one taken when he was 11
which Fujimoto said he was given by the child before he left North Korea.
Kim Jong Un also apparently shares some of his father’s
health problems, and is reported to have diabetes and heart disease due to a
lack of exercise.
Like his film-loving father, Jong Un is said to enjoy
popular culture, and is apparently a fan of NBA basketball.
Regarding any succession plans, some analysts have advised
regional powers to be cautious, since the dearth of verifiable information from
the shrouded military regime often leads to international speculation.
“We had rumors in September, October that it will be
Chang Song-taek, Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law, then briefly there were rumors
about his second son, then stories about his third son,” Andrei Lankov of
the Australian National University told the BBC. “Every few months we have
a new wave of rumors.”
Much speculation has focused that the man being lined up as
the real “power behind the throne” is Chang — the husband of Kim
Jong-il’s sister and director of the administrative department of the North
Korean Workers Party.
Some analysts see him acting as a “regent” to Kim
Jong Un until he is ready to rule on his own.
“There is a significant link between North Korea’s
recent military provocations and succession issues,” said Lee Dong-bok, an
expert on the North’s negotiating tactics.
North Korea, which has hundreds of mid-range missiles that
can hit all of South Korea and most of Japan, is readying at least three or
four missiles for firing, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted an opposition
lawmaker Park saying after a briefing with defense officials. The missiles
could include the Rodong and a new intermediate range missile that can fly more
than 800 miles, the report said.