August 27, 2010 11:54
Ailing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has not lost his ability to baffle the world, embarking on a surprise trip to China the same day former U.S. President Jimmy Carter arrived in Pyongyang at the North's invitation.
The trip was unusually abrupt. A South Korean security official on Thursday pointed out that Kim usually sends an advance party ahead to plan his China visits, and that this visit comes a mere three months after his last one. Experts believe Kim is trying to consolidate the succession of his son Jong-un (26) with the visit.
◆ Will Kim Introduce His Heir to Chinese Leaders?
An extraordinary congress of the North Korean Workers Party in early September, the first in 44 years, is expected to elevate Kim Jong-un to a key party post or reshuffle the leadership to cement his succession.
Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses said, "Two weeks before the first inter-Korean summit in 2000, Kim Jong-il suddenly visited Beijing, where he briefed Chinese leaders about the summit agenda. This time, two weeks before the party congress, he will seek support from China to establish his son as his successor." Park Byung-kwang of the Institute for National Security Strategy agreed, saying Kim will officially tell Chinese leaders of his decision, which has so far been a matter of rumor.
But Kim Keun-sik, a professor at Kyungnam University said something else must be afoot. "North Korea is no vassal state, and a former U.S. president is visiting. If his agenda is only about his son's succession, there is no reason why he couldn't delay the trip by about a day."
A South Korean government source said if Kim Jong-un is accompanying his father, it remains to be seen whom the two will meet. It could be that the trip is a kind of pilgrimage to sites that relate to Kim Il-sung's activities in China rather than aimed at introducing Kim Junior to the Chinese leadership.
◆ A Pilgrimage?
Kim Jong-il took a different route this time. On all his previous five visits to China he went to Beijing via Dandong, Liaoning Province, but on Thursday he instead went north to Jilin Province, where he visited Yuwen Middle School, which his father attended from 1927 to 1930.
Kim Yong-il, the director of the North Korean Workers Party's International Affairs Department, had looked around the area in February. There are many historic sites and places that were important in Kim Il-sung's activities there.
Prof. Kim Young-soo of Sogang University said, "If Kim Jong-il visited Yuwen Middle School with Jong-un, then in all probability it's a symbolic act to establish his son's legitimacy as the successor."
Aug. 28 marks the North's 83rd "Youth Day," which the regime celebrates in memory of the day when Kim Il-sung founded the Korea Communist Youth League in Jilin in 1927. A former senior North Korean official who has defected to South Korea said the regime is using Youth Day "to put out the message that Kim Jong-un, who is called the 'young general,' has inherited his grandfather's spirit."
The regime has been busy cementing Kim junior's position. A Supreme People's Assembly session recently promoted Kim senior's brother-in-law Jang Song-taek, who is seen as Kim junior's guardian, to vice chairman of the National Defense Commission.
It was already the second session of the rubber-stamp parliament in as many months. "The regime has never held two SPA sessions only two months apart, so it seems something urgent happened within the regime after Kim Jong-il's last visit to China in early May," a North Korean defector said.
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