Sep 27, 2010 9:48 PM by Alison Haynes
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Il
promoted his youngest son to the rank of general in the Korean
People's Army, the state news agency reported early Tuesday, the
clearest signal yet that the 20-something is on track to succeed
his father in ruling the impoverished country.
Kim issued an order handing six people - including son Kim Jong
Un - the rank of general, the Korean Central News Agency said in a
dispatch. Also promoted was Kim Kyong Hui, the elder Kim's sister.
It marks the first time that Kim Jong Un's name has appeared in
The report came hours ahead of the start of the ruling Workers'
Party meeting, the country's biggest political meeting in three
decades, and amid intense speculation that the duo could be given
key posts at the gathering.
The ailing 68-year-old Kim Jong Il took control of North Korea
when his father, the North's founder Kim Il Sung, died of heart
failure in 1994. He has reportedly groomed third son as his heir,
and some experts have also said that Kim Kyong Hui might be tapped
to oversee a transfer of power if the leader dies before the son is
ready to take over.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell said in a
conference call that Washington was "watching developments
carefully" and was working to interpret the announcement's
The question of who will take over from Kim Jong Il, who rules
with absolute authority but is believed to suffer from a host of
ailments, is important to regional security because of North
Korea's active nuclear and missile programs, and regular threats it
makes against rival South Korea - an important U.S. ally.
"Kim Jong Un's promotion is the starting point for his formal
succession to power," said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at
Seoul's Dongguk University.
He said the North's "songun," or "military first" policy -
in which priority is given to the armed forces - will play an
important role in establishing the succession.
Kim Kyong Hui and her husband Jang Song Thaek - vice chairman of
the all-powerful National Defense Commission - are likely to act as
guardians for the young Kim during his rise to power.
Many delegates to the party meeting arrived in Pyongyang on
Sunday by train and the city was festooned with flags and placards
announcing the event, footage shot by broadcaster APTN showed.
"Warm congratulations to the representatives meeting of the
Workers' Party of Korea!" read one poster.
A South Korean newspaper reported Monday that the younger Kim
was chosen as a military delegate to the conference. The party's
central committee then put out internal propaganda proclaiming him
to be Kim Jong Il's sole successor, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper said,
citing a source in North Korea that it did not identify.
Still, some experts said Kim's son - who is thought to be in his
mid- to late-20s - may not be ready to officially debut as a
successor. So Kim Jong Il's 64-year-old sister might be designated
to serve as a caretaker after Kim's death, Yuriko Koike, former
Japanese defense minister and national security adviser, wrote in a
syndicated column earlier this month.
Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute
think tank near Seoul, shared the view.
"There is a possibility that she could play the role of a
coordinator to make sure the power succession goes smoothly,"
Koike wrote that Kim Jong Il himself noted his sister's
authority in the communist country in comments before the ruling
party's Central Committee, saying "Kim Kyong Hui is myself, the
words of Kim Kyong Hui are my words, and instructions issued by Kim
Kyong Hui are my instructions."
Koike, now a top official in Japan's Liberal Democratic Party,
did not clarify in her column how she knew of these comments.
Kim Kyong Hui, who heads the North Korean ruling party's light
industry department, is four years younger than her only biological
sibling. Biographical information about her is extremely scarce.
But Kim Jong Il's former sushi chef wrote in a 2003 memoir that Kim
Kyong Hui is full of charm when it comes to her brother.
"At banquets, she would sit next to Kim Jong Il and kept on
saying, 'brother, brother!"' Kenji Fujimoto said. "She very much
took after her brother."
A small photo in a book published by South Korea's Unification
Ministry shows Kim Kyong Hui with a chubby, bespectacled face and
wavy, shoulder-length hair. Footage aired last year by Pyongyang's
state television showed her dressed in a light gray parka similar
to her brother's while she stood at his side during an inspection
trip to a farm.
Koike wrote that Kim Kyong Hui was believed to have a fierce
personality, adding that Kim Jong Il is quoted as saying, "When my
sister turns violent, no one can stop her. Even I can do nothing."
Jang Sung-min, a former South Korean lawmaker who was involved
in foreign affairs, also said Kim Kyong Hui had a special
relationship with her brother, citing an unidentified source in
Beijing who he says is privy to North Korea affairs.
"Kim Kyong Hui is the only person in the North who can speak
frankly to Kim Jong Il and can even be emotional in front of him,"
said Jang, who authored a book on Kim Jong Il.
Her husband, Jang Song Thaek, was demoted in early 2004 in what
analysts believed was a warning from Kim Jong Il against gaining
too much influence. But he has since made a political comeback in a
rehabilitation engineered by his wife, the former lawmaker said.
There was a big increase in the couple's appearances in KCNA in
"Kim Kyong Hui's frequent appearances in her brother's field
trips showed that she is a key person who can play a role in the
power succession," said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at
Seoul's Dongguk University.