For the first time, North Korea is referring to the late Kim Jong-il's son as its "Great Leader." Kim Jong-un, who is in his late 20's, is assuming leadership of the impoverished and reclusive country following his father's death, said to have occurred on Dec. 17. The North is also sending a clear message, especially to the South, that it will be business as usual in Pyongyang.
Just a day after ending an official period of mourning, North Korea wasted no time bluntly telling the world not to expect any policy changes from Pyongyang.
The National Defense Commission issued a statement. It admonishes what it called "foolish politicians around the world" -- especially those in South Korea -- not to expect any change from the North.
The statement was broadcast for 11 minutes at noon Friday on North Korean television. It reverted to a very tough tone about South Korea and its leader. President Lee Myung-bak is termed the head of a traitor group whose "evil misdeeds" have climaxed by failing to allow Koreans in the South to pay their final respects to Kim Jong-il.
The announcer, reading the statement, calls South Korea's president "clueless" when it comes to policy regarding the North. She says North Korea will shun his administration forever.
Georgetown University professor Balbina Hwang, a former State Department adviser on Korean policy, notes this is tough rhetoric, even by North Korean standards. "The tenor, the sheer vitriol in the language that is used and in the tone of which, this sort of raging, specifically about South Korea and President Lee Myung-bak, it is a bit unusual," said Hwang.
Hwang says she views this as reflecting a sense of insecurity in North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission. "I don't think any institution that does feel secure in its own power would feel the necessity to come out with such strong language and in such an intense way," she said.
Although Lee has taken a harder line with the North than his two predecessors, in recent months he had been signaling a more flexible approach toward Pyongyang.
Whether that will still be the case, with the Kim Jong-un era beginning in North Korea, will likely be revealed in Seoul on Monday. That is when Lee delivers his New Year's address. Officials at Cheong Wa Dae tell say that it will, in great part, be devoted to his outlook on the future of inter-Korean relations.