The anointment of Kim Jong Un as heir apparent to his ailing father, Kim Jong Il aka The Dear Leader, was a signal to the West that for the upper echelon in North (sorry, the Democratic People’s Republic of) Korea, it’s business as usual.
Not that there was anything remotely democratic in the move towards transition of power in this last surviving Stalinist dictatorship. As used to be the case in China (still a major economic supporter of the Kim dynasty), experienced outside watchers had to analyse the moves as though viewing a remote game of chess. The placement of the various human pieces indicated just who was holding the real power.
In a sign that Kim Jong Il’s health is declining rapidly, family members were named in positions of authority. Kim Jong Un was promoted to four-star general and vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea’s central military commission. But equally significant was the appointment to the same rank of Kim Jong Il’s sister, Kim Kyong Hui, who has no military experience. Her husband, National Defense Commission Vice Chairman Jang Song Taek, is regarded as a likely regent in the event of Kim Jong Il’s death. The heir apparent is thought to lack sufficient experience just yet.
As for Kim Jong Un: his biography is a little sketchy. He is believed to be about 28 years old and various reports say he was schooled abroad, possibly in Switzerland, under an assumed name. He reportedly speaks English, enjoys skiing and basketball, and is a fan of Michael Jordan and Jean-Claude Van Damme.
The Dear Leader’s move to cement the family succession is seen by some observers as a sign that he doesn’t entirely trust his own military leadership. North Korea has reportedly resumed stockpiling of nuclear materials and other technology, while at the same time sending signals via China and former US President Jimmy Carter, that new disarmament talks are a possibility. Most North Koreans live in a state of abject poverty, and Kim Jong Il seems to be playing a delicate game of trying to get economic sanctions lifted while appeasing the hawks among his generals. Meanwhile, at the DPRK’s official website (www.korea-dpr.com) the anti-western propaganda continues unabated.