Spin the Successor Merry-Go-Round

It has been reported yet again in recent days that yes, Kim Jong Woon may have been chosen as Kim Jong Il’s successor.

Japan’s Mainichi Daily News released on the 17th news that the successor has been confirmed as Jong Woon, the third son of Kim Jong Il, in a report within the General Political Bureau of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces.

This information, as with all previous claims of this sort, has not been officially confirmed.

Nevertheless, Kim Jong Il’s previous residential chef Fujimoto Kenji spoke positively of Jong Woon on the 12th of this month in an interview with KBS, noting, “Although he is young, he is a man of insight and of action. He stands comparison with a leader of the future.”

Kim Jong Woon is known to have received most of Kim Jong Il’s attention because of his looks and personality, which resemble the leader’s own. Although no recent picture of Jong Woon has seen the light of day, he is known to be 175cm tall and 90kg, and to be suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure despite his young age. These have been noted as detrimental to his future prospects by a number of Pyongyang watchers.

26-year-old Kim Jong Woon was called the “Morning Star General” when he was little and has worn a military uniform ever since he was young, which is said to have pleased his parents. He was educated at an international school in Switzerland and attended Kim Il Sung University from 2002 to 2007. Despite his residing in Switzerland, he remains a conservative due to the fact that he was extremely sheltered there, only attending school and otherwise staying at home. The number of years he stayed abroad was comparably shorter than any of his brothers, which means that Kim Jong Il kept him under his wings to a greater degree. Kim Jong Nam, by comparison, is said to be a more liberal thinker.

It is not just Kim Jong Il that considers Kim Jong Woon a possible leader of the country. It is Jong Woon himself who also believes it. Similar to his mother, Kim Jong Woon is known to be filled with a passionate wish to become the leader of the country. His charismatic personality, along with strong leadership, has made others believe in him as a prominent candidate, said Fujimoto.

The newly rehabilitated Jang Sung Taek is also reported to support him, which is something of a surprise to insiders.

Jang, Director of the Ministry of Administration, is known to have a closer relationship with Kim Jong Il’s first son, Kim Jong Nam. As the succession issues were repeatedly mentioned along with rumors surrounding Kim Jong Il’s illness during 2008, many experts mentioned that Kim Jong Nam would take over primarily because of support from Jang Sung Taek. Fujimoto Kenji, who served the Kim’s from 1998 to 2001, also stated the importance of Jang Sung Taek’s role, suggesting that, “The successor selection process will depend on Jang Sung Taek.” However, Jang Sung Taek reportedly selected Kim Jong Woon because he wanted to follow Kim Jong Il’s heart and desire.

Among other candidates, first son Kim Jong Nam and second son Kim Jong Cheol are also presumed to be under consideration. Kim Jong Nam, the first son, was considered the most prominent candidate at the beginning because of alleged support from both Jang and the Chinese government. However, he is known as the illegitimate child of Kim Jong Il, to the degree that it was denied that he was Kim Jong Il’s son for a long time within North Korea. Despite alleged domestic and international support, he was also seen as a disgrace to his father after getting caught in Japan for attempting to enter the country illegally. Furthermore, recently he gave an interview to the Chinese press, wherein he said that any claims he was set to become the next leader were incorrect, and even to express his lack of interest in becoming the leader of North Korea at all. This clearly moved him down the ladder of probable successors, although it may of course not be his decision to make.

Kim Jong Cheol, on the other hand, has shown some interest in taking over his father position but he, too, is seen as displeasing his father due to a rare hormonal imbalance. Kim Jong Cheol is known to have a calm personality and to have been criticized by Kim Jong Il for acting so effeminately. Fujimoto said in his book, “Kim Jong Il’s Cook” that he has never seen Kim Jong Cheol getting upset, that he was passive and that he thought Kim Jong Cheol had no ability to take authority and lead.

This brings us back to Kim Jong Woon who, although loved by his father, previously was not often mentioned as a possible candidate due to his health and inexperience. Some experts have even commented that this could in fact be another good reason why Jang Sung Taek chose to support Kim Jong Woon. It will take many years to fully train the younger son to become the leader of the kingdom and, as political adviser and trainer-in-chief, Jang Sung Taek would have more chance to control the direction of the nation despite the hereditary take-over.

So, the never-ending successor claims and counterclaims continue.

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