Make us your home page

In N. Korea, signs of smooth transfer of power

SEOUL, South Korea — In the span of one week, Kim Jong Un became North Korea's "Great Successor" and his political party's "Outstanding Leader."

The country's state-run newspaper, as if introducing the next step, urged him to become the military's "Supreme Commander." And, so far, there is no evidence of opposition to his ascension from within the secretive Stalinist nation.

Since the announcement a week ago today of the death of leader Kim Jong Il, North Korea has touted his heir with unequivocal zeal — a sign, experts say, that a tenuous power transfer is passing the first of its many tests.

Outside analysts concede that they have limited insight into Pyongyang's ruling class, but they liken the group to a pack of bulldogs in the room next door: You hear the growling if they start to fight.

"The biggest surprise so far is just how smooth it's going," said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea scholar at Seoul's Kookmin University. "Kim Jong Un has been accepted almost immediately by the leadership. It's clear why. It's not because he is special. It's because the North Korean elite understands — to use an old phrase — that either they hang together, or they will be hanged separately."

North Korea's second father-to-son power transfer has followed much the same pattern as the first one, in 1994, with the country tightening already-rigid social controls to hold itself together.

In the days after Kim Il Sung's death 17 years ago, U.S. analysts and researchers talked about a worst-case scenario in which factional power struggles would lead the country into chaos; defectors in Seoul said North Koreans knew too much about the outside world to accept another Kim. But North Korea quickly established for Kim Jong Il the same profile that his father had, calling him, first, the "Great Successor," then awarding him top ruling positions.

Experts caution that they will need months, maybe years, to know whether North Korea can successfully promote Kim Jong Un, thought to be in his late 20s. But Kim Jong Il's funeral Wednesday could provide the first signs of a new order among the leadership, based on who sits or stands in high-profile positions during the ceremony.

Japan, china confer: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda wrapped up a trip to Beijing today where he sought China's cooperation in promoting stability in North Korea. Noda's first official visit to Beijing since taking power in September would have centered on bilateral issues, such as squabbles over islands claimed by both countries, but the death of Kim Jong Il and the announcement of his son Kim Jong Un as successor has shifted the focus.

In N. Korea, signs of smooth transfer of power 12/25/11 [Last modified: Sunday, December 25, 2011 10:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours