North Korean Communist dynasty goes into its third generation
The world's only hereditary communist dynasty is going into its third generation, as the secretive dictatorship in Pyongyang announced to its people Sunday that the "Dear Leader" died the day before, allegedly of a heart attack brought on by overwork. Power is passing to the youngest of his three sons, Kim Jong-un, now known as the "Great Successor," formerly labeled by the regime as the "Brilliant Comrade."
It appears that, at least for the moment, the succession is being accepted by the various factions of the North Korean military establishment, who monopolize force and power in the regime. But it is far from certain that the succession will be as orderly as that of the departed Dear Leader, when regime founder Kim Il-sung died 17 years ago. Outsiders know very little about the inner dynamics of the Kim dynasty, but the mere fact that the Great Successor has two older brothers is a potential source of trouble, at least historically, offering a potential rallying point for dissident factions which might or might not be supportive of handing power over to a 27 year old who was educated in Switzerland.
Oldest brother Kim Jong Nam reportedly "had been the favorite to succeed his father but fell out of favour after being caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001 to visit Tokyo Disneyland." Second brother Kim Jong Chul was also passed over. Information is fragmentary, but a Japanese sushi chef who worked for Kim Jong il left North Korea and wrote about the Kim family. He is reported to have indicated:
Kim would often bemoan that Kim Jong Chul, his 23-year old son, would never rule because he had turned out to be "like a girl." Fujimoto said Kim doted on his youngest son -- Kim Jong Woon [alternative spelling of Kim Jong-un], [then] 18, who looks like the North Korean leader." According to one rumor, Koh Yong Hee had ordered the Workers Party and high officials to call Jong-Woon the "Morning Star King".
It must not be forgotten that North Korea's food situation is reportedly desperate, once again. There may be unrest coming, which could lead to military aggression as a means of cementing unity within the regime. On the other hand, it could potentially open a door to a fresh start with a new leader, whose international exposure could possibly lead him to a more realistic attitude toward the outside world. Having experienced life in a wealthy and free society, he may be more amenable to change.
All of this is speculation, because we actually know very little.
Having been brainwashed their entire lives, it is quite possible that the scenes of North Koreans' public grief over the Dear leader's departure are real. On the other hand, life in North Korea stinks, on any objective standard. Only the hermetically sealed information system keeps North Koreans from realizing how backward their country really is.
Everything depends on a portly heir to a communist throne. In so many ways, 2012 promises to be an interesting year, and not necessarily in a good way.
Update: North Korea celebratedf the Great Successor's reign by shooting a missile. AFP reports:
North Korea test-fired a short-range missile off its east coast on Monday, the same day it announced the death of leader Kim Jong-Il, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said.
The agency quoted an unnamed government official as saying themissile launch was unrelated to the announcement that Kim had died Saturday of a heart attack.
"North Korea test-fired a short-range missile this morning... it has been closed monitored by our military authorities," the official was quoted by Yonhap as saying.
Update: how stable will the new incumbent's reign be? Nobody really knows anything, but my best guess is that the regime strongmen (the heads of military units and secret police) understand the peril of the regime collapsing. They would rather have a consensus candidate that keeps the regime intact than pick a fihgt for an arrangement led by someone else. The country barely functions. The legitimacy (such as it is) depends on the Kim succession. The other two sons are: oldest: a sissy, and middle son a dissolute, corrupted fan of Western culture, who embarrassed the regime getting caught sneaking into Tokyo Disneyland. Kim2 designated Jong-un as his heir, and it has been accepted for over a year.
China holds a lot of cards. They could force North Korean liberalization if they wanted to turn the screws in that direction. But why would they do that? They like having a pressure point on the Japanese and Americans in Northeast Asia. We have to divert resources away from China and onto NK. The Chinese also see the success of Korean manufacturing companies, and want to replace the upstarts in the longer run as the tech and manufacturing leaders. The South Koreans are running rings around everyone in Asia in cars and electronics, as well as other fields, right now. China may want to keep pressure on South Korea.