Reluctant succession update

UPDATE 4:  Vice Unification Minister Hong Yang-ho chimes in on the DPRK succession issue.  According to Yonhap:

Kim, 67, who reportedly suffered a stroke in August last year, is believed to have named his third and youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor and to be now grooming him for an official debut as the next leader.

“North Korean media continued to broadcast reports that appeared to indicate the legitimacy of a hereditary succession since the end of 2008, but such reports were put on hold after July 15, 2009,” Hong said at a closed-door civic forum on North Korea policy. A transcript of his remarks was released by the ministry.

North Korean media often employed phrases like “bloodline of Mount Paektu,” Kim Jong-il’s supposed birthplace, or “inheritance” when lauding the country’s leadership, something analysts here saw as a reference to the planned succession. The use of such terms also peaked around the time the senior Kim was being trained as heir, they say.

Kim Jong-un, believed to be born in 1984 to the leader’s third wife Ko Yong-hui, is said to most resemble his father in appearance and temperament among the three sons. His older brother, Jong-chol, is 28, and half-brother, Jong-nam, is 38.

While references to the succession have subsided, the vice minister said, North Korea appeared to be intensifying social control to maintain national unity around the senior Kim. Media reports of Kim’s public activities totaled 110 as of Oct. 1, compared to 74 reported during the same period last year, the vice minister noted.

Also, a statement by Kim regarding the building of a “prosperous” nation by 2012 was reported five times over the span of five days from Aug. 24 to 28, he noted.

Such intense publicity on Kim “shows he is in firm control” and “puts emphasis on traditional ideology to protect the regime,” he said.

The current leader was internally designated as successor at age 32 in 1974 during a Workers’ Party meeting and publicly declared as the heir to his father during a party convention in 1980. His father and the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung, died of a heart attack in 1994.

Despite the drop in media references, watchers say the succession process is picking up pace internally. A Taiwanese photographer recently posted a photo on the Internet taken in the northern North Korean town of Wonsan last month, showing a poster that carried the heir’s name in red alongside his father’s name.

Cheong Seong-chang, an expert with the non-governmental Sejong Institute south of Seoul, said the North is now directing the succession process in a more subtle way, in contrast to its earlier nuclear and missile tests that were believed to have been aimed at supporting the power transition.

Read the full article here:
N. Korea halts media propaganda for heir apparent: Seoul official
Kim Hyun

UPDATE 3: As I mentioned below, I am reluctant to post much on the succession issue. There is much speculation out there and not much concrete information which is ‘actionable’. Evey now and then, however, some nuggets of information come out.  Such as this…


On September 19, a tourist to the Chonsam Cooperative Farm (location here) snapped a photo of a local propaganda poster (click here for full sized version).  According to the Choson Ilbo, and confirmed by my crack translator, G, the poster reads, “Kim Jong-eun (김정은), [NOT Jong-un] a young leader who succeeds the lineage of Mangyongdae and Mt. Baekdu,” along with the full lyrics of a song related to the succession.

Read more below:
N.Korean Poster Seems to Confirm Succession
Choson Ilbo

Why N.Korean Regime Succession Is a Delicate Matter
Choson Ilbo

UPDATE 2: Fox News reports on a Yonhap story which claims that Pyongynag residents have heard KJU’s name mentioned via their “cable radios” (these devices are built into the homes in many Pyongyang residencies, and you can see them in the documentary A State of Mind):

North Korea has mentioned Kim Jong Un by his full name — which it had not done in the past — and his qualifications in broadcasts through speakers installed in each house, Yonhap news agency reported, citing an unidentified source on North Korean affairs.

The broadcast campaign was launched in Pyongyang about two months, but it was not clear if it had been extended to other parts of the country, Yonhap said.

North Koreans are obligated to install speakers in their homes to listen to broadcasts on policy of the ruling Workers’ Party and its propaganda, according to North Koreans who have defected to the South.

UPDATE 1: Blane Harden has added additional information in the Washington Post.

ORIGINAL POST: In general I have avoided discussion of the DPRK succession issue because much of it is based on speculation and rumor. Lankov, however, managed to chime in on the topic with some interesting facts and insight. Quoting from the article:

However, by April there were no doubts: Kim Jong-un, Kim’s youngest son, began to be frequently mentioned in the North Korean classified propaganda materials. These publications are off-limits for common North Koreans, but the message was clear: the virtues of the “brilliant comrade” Kim Jong-un were extolled in way which would be proper only for the next leader. So, Kim Jong-il finally made up his mind about succession – or at least that is what most observers came to believe.

But in August the situation took an unexpected turn; today, the prospect of a power transition to Kim Jong-un looks far less certain than a month ago.

These days, while North Korean borders are transparent enough, it takes a few weeks for the rest of the world to learn what is going on behind the closed doors of supposedly “classified” indoctrination sessions for junior officials (the situation at higher levels is far less transparent). But a few days ago, entrepreneurial journalists smuggled from North Korea classified propaganda materials which were issued in July for military indoctrinators.

The materials describe the charisma of the “Young General Kim” and call him a “genius of military affairs”. They also explained his strategy was “the strategy of shock and offense” and told their listeners that the boldness of the “young general” caught the “enemy” (obviously, the United States) by surprise.

It is hinted that the missile launch in April and nuclear test in May were manifestations of the brilliant new strategy, created by Kim Jong-un.

Meanwhile, members of the North Korea’s Communist Youth Union were instructed to sing “Footsteps”, a new song that extolled the virtues of an unnamed young general, whose surname happened to be Kim. North Koreans got the message: the titles which were used in the song are different from those which are normally applied to any of two older “General Kims”, so the person must have been a new Kim.

Functionaries of the Communist Youth were also told that the ongoing “150 days battle” (a Maoist-style shock labor campaign, quite normal for North Korea) is managed by Kim Jong-un and hence will certainly lead to a major success.

Interestingly, the North Korea material reported that Kim Jong-un was 30 years old: obviously, any idea of an heir who just turned 26 was seen as offensive in a Confucian country.

Nonetheless, no references to Kim Jong-un’s name, let alone to his promotion, have appeared in North Korea’s general access media. The propaganda campaign was conducted behind closed doors, and targeted either military personnel (largely officers) or activists of the Party Youth. The average North Korean still has no clue about who Kim Jong-un is. If he or she does, it is probably due to exposure to marketplaces where merchants actively exchange rumors that have filtered in from overseas.

However, about a month ago the entire campaign was halted abruptly. Sources inside North Korea report that since early August the name of Kim Jong-un is not heard any more. Even “Footsteps”, his “promotional song”, suddenly ceased to be performed, and people are now advised not to sing it – for the time being, at least. The “150 day battle” continues, but without references to the decisive role of Kim Jong-un’s managerial genius.

No explanations have been given – this is North Korea, after all. In a different country such turn of events would produce a tidal wave of rumors, but North Koreans are well aware that matters of succession (as well as things related to Dear Leader’s family and health) are too dangerous to be discussed or even mentioned.

The article goes on to offer reasons why the succession machinery has apparently ground to a halt and it is all well worth reading.

Find the full article here:
North Korea’s Succession gets twisted
Asia Times
Andrei Lankov


3 Responses to “Reluctant succession update”

  1. EAC says:

    I’ve never seen the name spelled in Korean as 정운 (Jeong-un), though some journalists may have mistransliterated it that way. It’s always been 정은 (Jeong-eun) as far as I can tell.

  2. Until recently both Korean and Western media and experts had been persistently calling the young general “Kim Jeong-un (김정운)” that made the North Koreans laugh. However last week, when I was in Pyongyang, I called his proper name “Kim Jeong-eun (김정은)” that was accepted by the locals with the great deal of delightful surprise. For this they called me “an American spy”, in a typical for North Koreans friendly manner of course…