Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jong Un On Deck

With the recent raid on the Gaza-bound relief flotilla, the ongoing crisis in the Gulf of Mexico and this week’s UN debate over new sanctions on Iran, the world’s attention has turned away from North Korea. But political life in the Hermit Kingdom is still as bizarre as ever.

On Monday Chang Sung Taek was named vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission. What makes this at all noteworthy is that the National Defense Commission is one of North Korea’s most powerful state institutions and Chang Sung Taek is regarded as a close ally of “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-Il’s youngest son Kim Jong-Un. And that brings us back to the whole complex issue of finding a successor to Kim Jong-Il, a task that has taken on a new urgency since the Dear Leader apparently suffered a serious stroke a year-and-a-half ago and is now in frail health. The belief among North Korea watchers is that Kim Jong-Il is trying to consolidate support around the twenty-something Jong-Un as his chosen successor – there is even belief that this behind the scenes power-struggle could be the motivation behind notable acts of North Korean aggression that have included nuclear and ballistic missile tests and even the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan.

Chang Sung Taek was purged from the North Korean leadership in 2004, but returned to power two years later and now has risen to its highest levels. In other news from NK, the Times of London is reporting that two other senior North Korean officials suddenly left the government – one due to a heart attack, the other killed in a car “accident”; both possible indications of some regime housecleaning ahead of the younger Kim’s taking the reigns of power. Kim Jong-Il’s decision to promote his youngest son as his successor came after his eldest – Kim Jong-Nam - fell out of favor with his father after being caught trying to sneak into Japan using a false passport apparently to visit Disneyland Tokyo (and thus in the eyes of Kim Jong-Il proving himself not to be leadership material). Recently, the passed-over Kim Jong-Nam denied South Korean media reports that he was planning to defect to someplace in Europe.

Finally, just because you’re a despotic, Stalinist state, doesn’t mean you can’t be the source of a little humor. The site NK News has a Random Insult Generator based on the speeches of Dear Leader Kim and the official North Korean news agency. Just the thing to spice up your emails with bon mots like: “you politically illiterate militarist.”
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