November 15, 2010 11:46
Tuesday marks the 50th day since North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's son and heir Jong-un was promoted to vice chairman of the Workers Party's powerful Central Military Commission on Sept. 28. The younger Kim's main interests seem to lie only in controlling the military and maintaining close ties with China, which are necessary to continue the Kim dynasty, rather than any opening to the wider world or improvement of living conditions in the North.
"It may still be a bit early, but judging from the path Kim Jong-un has taken so far along with officials who have become his close aides, it's possible to gauge where North Korea is headed under his rule," said a South Korean government official.
The Unification Ministry on Sunday said Kim Jong-un appeared at 21 official events since his formal political debut. He most frequently appeared at party occasions with seven in September and October because the Workers' Party convention that elevated him to his new post and the 65th party anniversary took place then. Next were events related to China (five), the military (four), culture (four) and one other.
Since a meeting with Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Chinese Politburo who visited Pyongyang to attend the Workers Party anniversary, Kim junior also greeted a high-ranking military delegation from Beijing who marked the 60th anniversary of the Chinese army's entry into the Korean War. On Oct. 26, Kim Jong-il, Jong-un and an entourage of North Korea's top 20 military and political officials attended a memorial ceremony at the tombs of the Chinese People's Volunteers martyrs in Hoechang, South Pyongan Province, where thousands of Chinese soldiers including chairman Mao Zedong's eldest son Mao Anying are buried.
"This is an unprecedented occurrence and appears aimed at demonstrating North Korea's close ties to China," said a South Korean government official.
Kim Jong-un's next priority has been visits to military installations. The first event he chose to attend after his promotion was a training drill at a missile base on Oct. 5 where North Korea test-fired six Rodong and Scud missiles in 2006. On Oct. 25, he visited the State Security Department and on Nov. 3 a construction site in Jagang Province where troops in charge of the Kim family's security are deployed to build the Huichon Power Plant.
But Kim Jong-un has yet to embark on any business-related activities. "It is important to revive the economy, but this shows that more importance is being placed on maintaining his grip on the military and groveling to China," said a high-ranking North Korean defector. "Maybe he'll start taking an interest in economic matters once he gains a firm grip on power."
Meanwhile, the key figures who have been catapulted to senior positions since Kim Jong-un's political debut are his contacts within North Korea's Socialist Youth League, whose membership is estimated at 5 million -- even larger than the Workers Party's 3 million. The group, which was renamed Kim Il-sung Socialist Youth League, is believed to have risen in status as the breeding ground for North Korea's future leaders. Kim senior's brother-in-law Jang Song-taek served as its chairman during the 1990s.
"It is notable that most new senior officials under Kim Jong-un are those close to Jang Song-taek from his time at the Socialist Youth League, given that Jang has reportedly been tasked with watching over Jong-un," said a source familiar with North Korean affairs. "A large number of North Korea's power elite members will probably come from the youth league."
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