Furry Hat Offers Clues to Progress of N.Korean Succession

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's son and heir Jong-un is already being treated with the same level of protocol as his father.

A senior South Korean government official last Friday said Kim Jong-un seems to have moved up to the same rank as his father. "The most conspicuous sign is that Kim Jong-un has started wearing a top-quality furry hat that only Kim Jong-il has been wearing so far," the official added.

Kim junior wore the same hat as his father in video clips showing Kim senior's so-called on-the-spot guidance trip to the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang on Jan. 23 and 24.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his son and heir Jong-un wear Russian-style furry hats during a visit to the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang, in this screen grab released Jan. 23 by [North] Korean Central TV. /KCTV-Yonhap North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his son and heir Jong-un wear Russian-style furry hats during a visit to the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang, in this screen grab released Jan. 23 by [North] Korean Central TV. /KCTV-Yonhap

A former senior North Korean official identified as Choi, who has defected to South Korea, said, "The hat was customized by a foreign master craftsman using top-quality otter fur. It's an unwritten rule that nobody else can wear such a hat, so if Kim Jong-un is also wearing one, it means he has now reached almost the same status as his father."

Unlike Kim senior, who started wearing the hat when the winter started in late October, Kim junior first donned it on Dec. 16, when he inspected a North Korean Army unit.

"It seems Kim Jong-un began establishing himself as the heir in mid-December after three-months of internal consolidation of his status following his first official appearance on Sept. 28 last year," a South Korean government source said,

Among Kim Jong-il's close aides, Kim Ki-nam, a secretary of the Workers Party, and Hyon Chol-hae and Ri Myong-su, senior staffers of the National Defense Commission, sometimes wear similar hats. "But if you look at them carefully, you'll see that their hats are industrial products and the quality is far inferior," a North Korean source said.

The government official said in recent days North Korean TV has repeatedly shown Kim Jong-un without his father in reports on his on-the-spot guidance tours, which was unimaginable only a few weeks ago.

"Every factory Kim Jong-un inspected alongside his father before his first official appearance has now put up a signboard announcing, 'This is a factory that Comrade Kim Jong-un inspected' on such-and-such a date," the official added. "All this shows that Kim Jong-un's status is being consolidated."

englishnews@chosun.com / Jan. 31, 2011 09:22 KST