Seoul Has to Watch Out During N.Korea's Power Transition

      October 01, 2010 13:36

      North Korea's official press on Thursday published the first photo of Kim Jong-un, the son and heir of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Taken just after the extraordinary congress of the Workers Party, the photo shows Kim Jong-un seated to the left of his father after Ri Yong-ho, chief of the Army's general staff, who is seated immediately to the left of Kim Jong-il. Both Kim Jong-un and Ri were appointed as vice chairmen of the party's powerful Central Military Commission.

      Seated next to Kim Jong-un is Kim Yong-chun, the defense minister who also serves in the party's Politburo. Seated to the right of Kim senior are Kim Yong-nam, chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, and Premier Choe Yong-rim.

      The photo must have made North Koreans acutely aware of the power that has been handed over to the 27-year-old Kim Jong-un.

      On Wednesday, when North Korea announced the hereditary succession, it also reconfirmed it will bolster its nuclear weapons program. North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Pak Kil-yon told the UN General Assembly, "As long as the U.S. nuclear aircraft carriers sail around the seas of our country, our nuclear deterrent can never be abandoned, but should be strengthened further."

      Kim Jong-il first promoted Jong-un to four-star general and appointed him as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission in order to begin the process of succession. The North Korean leader intends to use the military, which is the country's most powerful group, as a bridge to secure the transfer of power. Now, the military will wield be even more powerful.

      After judging that its conventional military weapons have become too outdated to fight against South Korea, the North started focusing its resources in bolstering so-called asymmetric warfare capabilities, by developing nuclear weapons, missiles and special forces. Kim Jong-il and his son have no choice but to follow the military's strategy. As a result, the prospect of scrapping North Korea's nuclear weapons has become implausible even if the six-party nuclear talks resume.

      North Korea briefly praised China's economic reforms after Kim Jong-il visited the country in early September, but officials capable of emulating such changes have been completely excluded from the latest promotions to the inner circle. This shows that North Korea puts the priority not on reviving the economy and dealing with the food shortage but on consolidating the hereditary succession. 

      Given these circumstances, North Korea has no intention to take fundamental steps to normalize ties with South Korea. It is only making overtures to overcome the dire food shortage and other pressing issues. The regime's true intentions can also be sensed by the promotion of Kim Yong-chol, the chief of the General Reconnaissance Bureau responsible for sinking the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan, to the Central Military Commission.

      In times of power succession in dictatorships like North Korea, the risks increase of the successor taking drastic measures to prove his abilities. The terror bombing in Burma in 1983 and the Korean Air flight 858 bombing in 1987 both occurred during the process of Kim Il-sung handing over the leadership to his son Kim Jong-il. South Korea must closely watch North Korea's moves and build international networks of cooperation so that Kim Jong-un does not resort to such extreme actions.

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