The Future Path of Kim Jong Eun

[imText1]North Korea’s propaganda strategy of nicknaming Kim Jong Eun “Youth Captain” and exaggerating the importance of his having graduated from Kim Il Sung National War College is designed to burnish his reputation within the military and the Party, according to a leading South Korean researcher. The researcher, Cheong Seong Chang of the Sejong Institute, also believes that North Korea may in fact move towards some kind of reformist policy under the leadership of the younger Kim, although it is unclear what form that might take.

According to Cheong, who recently spoke at length with The Daily NK, “Currently, (North Korea’s) security is at risk. The influence of the military has increased greatly and now is a critical period for Kim Jong Eun to seize control of the party and the military.”

Cheong says that the task of creating an appropriate official background for Kim Jong Eun is somewhat different from that of Kim Jong Il, who extended and strengthened his authority based on the Party, but who also graduated from the elite Kim Il Sung University and was known as “The Party Center” long before he took the public reins of power.

Commenting that Kim Jong Eun seized the loyalty of the public security forces in 2009 as head of the National Security Agency (NSA), Cheong notes that Kim did not simultaneously receive any position in the Party or the military, and that his authority is weak as a result. Therefore, Cheong believes, “During this year, there is a good chance of his being appointed to an organization like the Central Military Commission of the Party or even becoming Supreme Commander of the People’s Army, depending on Kim Jong Il’s health condition.”

Additionally, “If anything happens to Cho Myung Rok, there is a possibility of Kim even being appointed First-Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission.”

On a related note, North Korea has announced that it intends to improve the people’s daily lives this year, and seems to be planning to refer to any improvements as the work of Kim Jong Eun. The backdrop which will allow North Korea to focus on the civilian economy is the successful 2nd nuclear test of 2009, Cheong says.

“Since (North Korea’s) nuclear weapons performed adequately and their practical effect is assured, North Korea has been relieved of the burden of investing in conventional weapons and munitions manufacturing,” Cheong believes, “Paradoxically, the success of the nuclear test is allowing North Korea to put more emphasis on light industry and agriculture.”

In the meantime, Cheong expects that Kim Jong Il will transfer approximately 50% of his authority to Kim Jong Eun during this year due to faltering confidence in his own health.

“Kim Jong Eun exercised about 30% influence over the past year,” Cheong told The Daily NK, “however, this year he will be involved in various new policies.” Cheong expects an era of joint governance between Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Eun to begin in the near future.

However, Kim Jong Eun is both young and inexperienced, Cheong points out, so, “It is hard to expect voluntary loyalty from the elder statesmen of the regime. Therefore, Kim has to depend on the important heavyweights of the elite group of leaders in their 60s.” Jang Sung Taek, Director of the Ministry of Administration of the Party, Kim Jeong Kak, the First Vice-Director of the General Political Bureau of the Army, and Ri Yong Ho, the Chief of the General Staff are all members of this group.

In any case, and in contrast with those who believe that Kim Jong Eun will not be willing or able to break with his father’s policies, meaning that North Korea will continue on its current, destitute path as long as the Kim dynasty rules, Cheong suggests that Kim Jong Eun, who lived in Europe for four years in his teens, may in fact choose to go down the path of reform.

Cheong compares Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Eun with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Unlike Mao, who had no experience of life in foreign countries, Deng experienced capitalism in France and subsequently oversaw the introduction of capitalism in China. Cheong believes that, similarly, Kim Jong Eun might not have the “blind repulsion towards capitalism” of his father and grandfather.

Additionally, judging by the fact that Kim Jong Eun studied in the tourism-oriented country of Switzerland, “There is a higher chance of him inviting financial capital in through Mt. Geumgang and Kaesong tours. (Under Kim Jong Eun), North Korea will focus on cooperation with South Korea for the purposes of economic development,” Cheong predicts.

Kim Jong Eun may then be trying to overcome the lost loyalty of the citizens with a Faustian bargain, or in Cheong’s words, “The regime will try to offer economic rewards as the price of political loyalty.”