Kim Jong-il Asserts Control

      September 11, 2009 11:33

      Why did North Korea's no. 2 Kim Yong-nam publicly announce that finding a successor to leader Kim Jong-il was "not being discussed at this point?" Given Kim Jong-il's absolute rule, the comments must be viewed as coming straight from the "dear leader" himself, in other words, there is a strong chance that Kim Jong-il personally took steps to quell rumors about the succession.

      "Kim Yong-nam's comments are probably related to the fact that there has recently been no more talk of Kim's third son Jong-un being chosen as a successor, following a steady flow of intelligence information showing the leader's health had recovered," one South Korean intelligence official speculated.

      Rumors that Jong-un had been appointed as a successor began circulating at the beginning of this year. South Korea's National Intelligence Service told lawmakers in June that the North sent out diplomatic notices to a number of countries following its second nuclear test informing them that Jong-un had been chosen as heir apparent.

      But early this month, newsletters with the latest information on North Korean reported rumors that that the regime ordered all of officials to refrain from talking about the issue of a successor. They said Kim Jong-il is in the pink of health and capable of leading the country for the next 10 years and more.

      One North Korea expert said, "Early this year, when Kim Jong-il's recovery seemed uncertain, there was plenty of reason for North Koreans to talk about a successor. But if the health issue has been resolved, discussions over a successor could be seen as a threat."

      Experts believe Kim Jong-il knows from experience that the appointment of a successor could weaken his absolute power. After being chosen to succeed his father Kim Il-sung in 1980, Kim is believed to have quickly taken over the reins of power.

      There have been numerous accounts of Kim having recovered his health. "I've been told that Deputy U.S. Secretary of State James Steinberg, who visited South Korea in June, told our intelligence official that Kim Jong-il would live for at least another five years," one government source said. Steinberg's comment is based on the observations and analyses of medical experts who were shown four hours of footage of Kim moving around.

      In mid-August, Kim had dinner with Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun for around four hours. One South Korean government official said, "I heard Kim Jong-il drank pink champagne and smoked Marlboro cigarettes. People who have had a stroke must avoid alcohol and cigarettes, but Kim seems to have recovered significantly judging from his drinking and smoking, even in small amounts." 

      Ryu Dong-ryeol, a researcher at the Police Science Institute said, "Kim Jong-il is sending out a message to the world that he is alive and well and that they should negotiate with him. Under these circumstances, any talk of a successor would not be welcome, and this was voiced through Kim Yong-nam's comments."

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