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[Editorial] N. Korea’s Hereditary Power Succession

Posted June. 03, 2009 07:37,   


North Korea is seeking a hereditary power transfer spanning three generations from the country’s founder Kim Il Sung to his son Kim Jong Il and now to Kim Jong Il’s youngest son Jong Un. Pyongyang last week notified its foreign missions of the unofficial nomination of Kim Jong Un as the heir apparent, and urged its people to call him “Captain Kim” and sing songs praising him. Beneath the veneer of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Kim family is set to pass down its wealth and power from generation to generation.

The hereditary succession of power in North Korea is detrimental to both peace on the Korean Peninsula and the Stalinist country’s future. Kim Il Sung triggered the Korean War in 1950, he and his son Kim Jong Il killed their southern brethren by orchestrating the 1987 bombing of a (South) Korean Air flight, and perpetrated an assassination attempt on South Korean President Park Chung-hee and high-ranking Seoul officials in Burma in 1983. Under Kim Jong Il, the North has launched military provocations twice in the Yellow Sea, killing and injuring South Korean sailors. The hereditary succession means the North will continue its belligerence and ambition to reunite the Koreas through communism.

The North’s recent behavior is similar to what happened when Kim Il Sung named Kim Jong Il his successor. Kim Jong Un’s nomination was made shortly after North Korea’s rocket launch and its second nuclear test last month. These actions were intended to solidify Kim Jong Un’s power base by giving him credit for the saber-rattling that threatens world peace. After Kim Jong Il was named heir apparent in 1974, the North said he took the lead in seizing the U.S. intelligence ship Pueblo in 1968 and shooting down a U.S. reconnaissance plane in 1969. Given this precedent, the communist country will do anything to fabricate achievements by Kim Jong Un.

The Kim family is the main source of adversity for the North Korean people. The Kims have exploited the North’s limited national resources to keep power and built up the military while letting its people starve to death and denying them freedom and human rights. How long can this authoritarian hereditary government that has put 23 million people in poverty last?

The power transfer will not be easy, however. Power struggles between Kim Jong Un and his two brothers could arise. Given the increasing number of North Korean defectors, North Koreans appear to oppose the hereditary power transfer. It is unclear whether the ailing Kim Jong Il can protect his son and help him take power without problems.

Seoul, for its part, must prepare for potential provocations by Pyongyang that aim to support Kim Jong Un’s succession. South Korea must prevent chaos in the North from spreading throughout the Korean Peninsula.