— North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s youngest son has been named a
four-star general, a promotion that paved the way for his advance in
the ranks, but stopped short of installing him as next in line to run
the impoverished communist country.
On Monday, the eve of a rare congress of the ruling Workers’ Party in
The announcement was the first time the North Korean
regime has publicly uttered the name of the man believed to be heir
apparent to the dynasty begun by his grandfather Kim Il Sung after
World War II. His photograph, resume and even the spelling of his name
have been deemed state secrets.
The decision did not end speculation about what the future will hold. Kim Jong Il, 68, is believed to be ill.
“This is just the first step in the succession
process. As long as Kim Jong Il is alive, nobody knows how the other
parties are going to react,” said
is a powerful figure in his own right with extensive family ties in the
military. Jang was promoted in June to be vice chairman of the National
Defense Commission, which is headed by Kim Jong Il.
The appointment of
Another of the newly promoted generals is
After three years in a German-speaking public school near
in 2000. He is believed to have obtained two degrees, one in physics at
Kim Il Sung University, and another at the Kim Il Sung Military
Academy. According to defector groups in
Although his name has not appeared in the news
media, North Koreans have been lectured in mandatory ideological
sessions for at least one year about the brilliant “young general.”
“For the 21st century, we need a leader who is young
and vibrant and full of spirit. … The party happens to have a young
leader in mind who possesses those kinds of qualities,” read one
lecture, the contents of which was obtained by Korean Intellectuals
A 28-year-old North Korean woman living in
“They say he was three years in the military in the
toughest region of the country. He lived like everybody else; they
didn’t have much food. He saw the system from the inside and will help
fix it,” said the woman, who gave her name as Su-jong, interviewed in
the border city of Yanji this year.
Jeong Hee Ok, a woman in her 50s from Hamhung,
“They told us all about the successor and we were
very happy,” Jeong said. “People believe he will be smarter and will
bring the country new perspectives.”
“It looks like they are taking the final steps to mold
Many North Korean defectors believe that Kim Jong Il had to slow down plans to name
Food shortages, a botched currency overhaul, and
diplomatic isolation resulting from the country’s nuclear weapons
program and the sinking of a South Korean military ship blamed on
“Kim Jong Il is moving hesitantly,” said
to be legitimized. They are hoping to buy themselves time.”
Kim Jong Il was publicly named successor to his
father in 1980, at age 38, and took over the leadership upon Kim Il
Sung’s death in 1994.
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