North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's son and heir Jong-un could visit China this year in a bid to consolidate his power base and ease the North's economic woes, the head of a think tank said Monday.
"The biggest event for North Korea this year would be a trip to Beijing by Kim Jong-un alone," said Nam Sung-wook, who heads the Institute for National Security and Strategy under the National Intelligence Service. If Kim junior can secure the resumption of six-party denuclearization talks and aid from South Korea, he would be able to publicize his exploits, Nam added.
The regime apparently aims to hand over power around the centenary of the nation's late founder Kim Il-sung on April 15 next year, Nam said, citing the North's official New Year's editorial that called for "celebrating the centenary of Kim Il-sung's birth as the nation's biggest festival" and "marking a new threshold in the Kim Il-sung-led centenary history of the nation."
Nam said the current food crisis in the North is not as dire as it was in 1995. "The North needs 5 million tons of grains a year, but produces 4 million tons on average," he said. "The shortage of the demand is around 20 percent, which is considered manageable." But with rice aid from the South suspended, the regime released its rice stockpiles and needs to replenish them, which is probably why it has recently asked the international community for food aid.
Meanwhile, Hyun Sung-il, a researcher at the institute, told a seminar the North Korean regime is being quite open about the hereditary succession. Hyun ascribed the revision of party rules to ensure a smooth dynastic transfer of power to Kim Jong-il's deteriorating health and weakened control. "Party regulations become more important since it is the party that takes over when the leader's power weakens."
Kim Jin-ha of the Korea Institute for National Unification said that Kim Jong-un has very little power at present in the regime, so close aides who support and protect him including his uncle Jang Song-taek may have been involved in the revision to lay foundation for the power transfer.