Kim Jong-il Turns 70 Amid Uncertainty Over Future

      February 14, 2011 09:03

      Kim Jong-il

      North Korean leader Kim Jong-il turns 70 on Feb. 16. Born in 1941, he was given the official birth year of 1942 when nation founder Kim Il-sung established him as his heir to create a neat 30-year age difference between father and son.

      A South Korean intelligence officer said it was an attempt to set a 10-year plan timeframe for a smooth transition of power and apparently also to establish Kim Jong-il as the "next generation" of the leadership. A generation is said to last roughly 30 years.

      Now the regime is touting 2012, the centennial of Kim Il-sung's birth and his son's official 70th birthday, as the year when the North becomes "a prosperous and powerful nation."

      South Korean government officials say the round birthday brings home how uncertain Kim's future is, especially given his poor health. He underwent heart surgery in May 2007 and collapsed with a stroke in August 2008, and some intelligence reports say he is on kidney dialysis due primarily to diabetes.

      His mind is also apparently going. A North Korean source quoted a rumor that Kim stunned close aides last year when he told a confusing story that he met Kim Il-sung  but did not know whether this was a dream or reality.

      Kim Il-sung died of a heart attack in July 1994. Kim Jong-il's deteriorating health is prompting a hasty transition of power to his son Jong-un, and rumor has it that the military and Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law Jang Song-taek have already seized power. The power vacuum seems to be leading to erratic policies toward South Korea and the outside world, North Korea experts speculate.

      A Cheong Wa Dae official said the regime is demonstrating more extreme inconsistency in policies toward the South -- the sequence veers from test-launching a long-range rocket in April 2009 to a second nuclear test in May 2009, proposing an inter-Korean summit in August 2009, a naval skirmish with the South near the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border in November 2009, the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan in March 2010 and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November, and a sudden charm offensive this year.

      The official said all this indicates that control at the center has been eroded.

      The birthday is the North's biggest festival, and Kim Jong-un is officially in charge of the celebrations, his first major task since he made his debut. Prof. Cho Young-ki of Korea University said, "The main goals of the festivities will be to strengthen the succession and demonstrate that Kim Jong-il is in good health."

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