The Rapid Rise of Kim Jong-un

      September 15, 2010 12:58

      North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appointed his third son Jong-un as his successor in January of 2009 and apparently informed his closest aides of his decision first. The selection came just five months after he suffered a massive stroke in August 2008, and North Korean officials got to work immediately to cement Jong-un's position.

      In February, just one month later, the North Korean leader attended a military performance where he heard for the first time the song "Footsteps," which obliquely praises the younger Kim.

      ◆ Swift Ascent

      According to sources in the West familiar with North Korean affairs, Jong-un was elected a deputy to the Supreme People's Assembly in March 2009 under the alias "Kim Jong" for the 216 electoral district, which represents Kim senior's birthday of Feb. 16. Once that was done, the regime convened three general meetings to reshuffle and reorganize the powerful National Defense Commission. It also replaced the premier and entire Cabinet.

      Kim Jong-un then sat next to his father to witness the launch of North Korea's long-range missile on April 5 last year and was said to have orchestrated a punishingly expensive fireworks performance to commemorate his late grandfather Kim Il-sung's birthday on April 15, thereby announcing his rise to power to Pyongyang's ruling elite.

      The National Intelligence Service told a National Assembly committee in June last year that North Korea informed its overseas diplomatic missions of Jong-un’s appointment.

      ◆ Chinese Approval

      Until last year, the process of succession appears to have been limited to the North Korean leadership and the military. "Until last year, few North Korean defectors had heard of Kim Jong-un," a South Korean government official said. But many defectors who escaped this year have. The NIS told the National Assembly in June this year that events are being held featuring poems and songs in praise of Kim Jong-un as part of a major campaign to bolster his personality cult. Intelligence officials added that Jong-un started accompanying his father on his so called on-the-spot guidance tours and boosting his influence in policies.

      The North Korean authorities have started using slogans and expressions signaling Jong-un's rise to power. One of them is "party center," a code word for the succession that is making a reappearance for the first time in 14 years. And the notorious mass calisthenics performance "Arirang" featured placards spelling the letters "CNC," a quaint abbreviation for "computer numerical control," another code associating Jong-un with North Korea's idea of modernity.

      Efforts to ensure a smooth succession spread from the North Korean leadership and military to ordinary people and even to the Chinese leadership. Kim Jong-il last month took Jong-un on a trip to China, where he apparently introduced him to Chinese President Hu Jintao.

      Lee Jo-won, a professor at Chungang University, said, "It appears that the only thing left is to formally announce his succession."

      But some experts say Kim Jong-il may need more time. He himself was given his first party post in 1964 and was anointed in 1974. But it was not until 1980 that he made his official debut. That meant he had 16 years to learn the ropes, whereas Jong-un, who is in his mid-20s, had just one year and nine months.

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