North Korean leader Kim Jong-il limped so severely at a military parade on Sunday that he was unable to walk properly even while holding on to a rail. North Korean media kept this a secret, but the parade was broadcast live for an hour and 48 minutes on Sunday, and around 80 foreign journalists from CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and other international media were also invited. That must mean North Korea was willing to risk exposing the Kim Jong-il's frail condition.
The regime has been rushing the hereditary transfer of power to Kim Jong-il's son Jong-un and promoted him to four-star general on Sept. 27. Kim Jong-un watched the parade from the viewing platform alongside his father and Chinese Politburo member Zhou Yongkang, who is the ninth-highest official in Beijing. The parade took place 13 days after Kim Jong-un became a general and signified his official debut as North Korea's heir apparent. By contrast, Kim Jong-il was officially named successor to the throne in 1980, after 16 years of training since he was given a party post in 1964.
Captured on camera was a scene showing Kim Yong-chun (74), the minister of People's Armed Forces, turn and bend to Kim Jong-un (27), to explain something to the young man. Article 11 of North Korea's constitution says all activities must take place under the guidance of the Workers Party. But unlike his father, Kim Jong-un began his ascent to the top by bypassing the party. This means the younger Kim had no time to go through proper training for the leadership. Nobody knows what will happen to North Korea if Kim Jong-il dies before his son has learned the ropes.
During the parade, the North unveiled a new intermediate-range ballistic missile to the international media that is capable of hitting U.S. military targets in Guam. The KN-02 short-range missile, which can hit anywhere in South Korea, as well as Scud and Rodong missiles were also displayed. The U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security on Friday said North Korea's uranium enrichment program, which was pursued separately from its plutonium-based nuclear weapons development, has gone beyond the testing stage.
A physically weakened leader and an inexperienced heir plus a hostile military with nuclear weapons and around 1,000 missiles: that is the threat South Korea faces from the North. If a hardline group gains control of these weapons in case the regime disintegrates, it could lead to catastrophic consequences not only for the Korean Peninsula but for the whole of Northeast Asia. South Korea's future depends on finding a solution to this. Some may even wish Kim Jong-il a long life.