Kim Jong-il’s Successor Named

Kim Jong-un, the 25-year-old youngest son of dictator Kim Jong-il, is the likely heir to North Korea’s police state, according to reports emerging from the Korean peninsula.

Citing Chinese sources, the South Korean news agency Yonhap said that Jong-un had officially registered for the Supreme People’s Assembly elections on March 8.  After the elections, he is expected to be nominated as Kim’s (eventual) successor.  The Times:

Reports from North and South Korea yesterday appeared to confirm what until now has been only rumour – that Kim Jong Un, the youngest son of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, is being lined up to inherit his father’s title.  It would be the second hereditary succession in the last remaining totalitarian communist dictatorship – and sets the scene for a period of extreme instability in one of the world’s most unpredictable countries.

One of his closest and most hardline generals yesterday promised the army’s loyalty to the “bloodline” of the senior Mr Kim, a virtual guarantee that one of his children will succeed him.  “We will firmly carry on the blood-line of Mangyongdae and Mount Paektu with our guns, faithfully upholding the leadership of our supreme commander,” Pak Jae Kyong, a senior general of the North Korean Defence Ministry, was quoted in the state media as having said at a recent rally for Kim Jong Il’s birthday.  Mount Paektu is the sacred mountain where Kim Jong Il, according to the cult of personality which surrounds him, was born 67 years ago.  Mangyongdae was the family home of his late father, the founder of North Korea, Kim Il Sung.


Foreign concern about the North Korean succession has been intense since last summer when Kim Jong Il disappeared from public view for three months after apparently suffering a stroke.  During his convalescence, his 62-year-old brother-in-law, Chang Sung Taek, is said to have taken over his responsibilities.  It is still possible that Jong Un may eventually serve as no more than a figurehead while real power lies with older and more experienced leaders.

It also remains unclear when and how Jong-un will take over.  Kim himself was groomed to succeed his father since the 1970s but did not become leader until after Il-sung’s death in 1994.

As I noted in a previous post, Kim’s successor will face a pivotal choice of whether to begin to reform North Korea’s terribly functioning, state-run economy or to continue to pursue a strategy of economic isolation and political brinksmanship, risking a serious flare-up in tensions on the Korean peninsula.

At first glance, testimony from Kim’s former sushi chef Kenji Fujimoto portrays Jong-un to be a lot like his father:

As a boy, Jong-un drove a Mercedes Benz with specially adapted pedals and seat around the grounds of Kim Jong-il’s home.  He liked Chinese food and sushi, especially squid and the finest cuts of tuna.  He used to smoke Mr. Fujimoto’s menthol cigarettes.

“If power is to be handed over then Jong-un is the best for it,” Mr. Fujimoto said.  “He has superb physical gifts, is a big drinker and never admits defeat.”

Well, perhaps the “superb physical gifts” part isn’t all that much like Kim, but let’s hope this isn’t the only difference.

Related New Atlanticist Commentary:

Update – 2/20/09:

FP‘s Passport takes the news of Kim’s successor with a grain of salt.

Peter Cassata is associate editor of the Atlantic Council.  

Image: Kim-NKArmy.programthumb.jpg