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NK`s Succession Process and Reunification

Posted September. 29, 2010 16:17,   


The youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, Jong Un, was appointed a general Tuesday in an apparent sign that he is his father`s chosen successor. While this could herald the beginning of the dynastic transfer of power to the third generation of the Kim family, it also means that the 24 million North Koreans will have to endure another dictatorship following those featuring the God-like authority of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

The power succession rapidly progressed after Kim Jong Il reportedly suffered a stroke in August 2008. Just 27 years old, Kim Jong Un has no military experience in a stark contrast to his father, who was elected to the Workers` Party central committee in 1974 at age 32. Before becoming the second leader of the communist state, he practiced for 20 years under Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994.

North Korea was politically and economically stable in the mid-1970s, when Kim Il Sung was preparing to hand over power to his son. Now, however, it faces international sanctions for its nuclear development and for sinking the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan. The North is also in a world of economic trouble. Kim Jong Il’s sister Kim Kyoung Hui and longtime aide Choe Ryong Hae were also appointed generals in an apparent move to support the succession process. The procedures, however, do not seem solid. At the representatives meeting of the Workers` Party Monday, Kim Jong Il was reappointed general secretary but no details on other designations were given, attracting speculation over what official position Kim Jong Un will get.

Though the North’s domestic condition is unstable, it is too early to hastily conclude how the succession process will turn out. When Kim Il Sung died in 1994, many experts expected a hard landing or even collapse of the North`s communist regime, but Pyongyang managed to continue. Numerous variables include if the North’s ruling elite will accept Kim Jong Un as successor and if the North Korean people can adapt to the third generation of the ruling Kim family.

South Korea should cope with situations that could arise from the North`s succession process. Pyongyang might pretend to reform or open its markets for the sake of stabilizing its regime in the succession process. Seoul needs wisdom and tolerance if it is to confront and coexist with Pyongyang. Contingency plans for sudden events in the North are also needed.

The Lee Myung-bak administration in Seoul should also consistently urge Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons development and take a strict stance on the Cheonan sinking. The South`s policy toward the North should take a step forward to correct Pyongyang`s ill manners and pro-North Korea groups in Seoul. Policy toward the North by the South Korean Office of the President, Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry, Defense Ministry and the National Intelligence Service has been criticized for belatedness and passivity. There is no reason for the South to be defensive. For instance, Seoul could have actively proceeded with reunions of separated inter-Korean families over the Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) holidays. Seoul will only be dragged into Pyongyang’s fraudulent power succession strategies if it continues to just respond to its requests.

It is crucial to nurture information and negotiation experts for proper legislation and exercising of policy toward the North. Equally important is to make the North`s power elite believe that no revenge will come if Korean reunification is led by the South. Preparation for reunification is also needed to avoid trial-and-error and chaos. Seoul must ensure that President Lee’s proposal for a reunification tax does not remain just rhetoric. Certain foreign experts say the world community should consider the North’s power succession as an opportunity, urging a political strategy against the North. They say this can be done by warning the North Korean people on how serious the potential damage of a third-generation power succession can be.

Seoul must continue to emphasize to major countries including the U.S., Japan, China and Russia that a South Korea-led reunification is the key to resolving the Korean Peninsula issue. In particular, the South should persuade China, the North`s closest ally, that reunification led by the South will contribute to stability and peace in Northeast Asia. It is the duty of South Korea`s current generation to rescue the North Korean people from oppression and poverty.