Death of North Korea’s Leader, Kim Jong-il

BY JULIE DAHLGARD — North Korea lost its leader, Kim Jong-il two weeks ago. Contrary to what the Wizard of Oz taught, the death of a ruler is not met with song, but with secrecy and questioned mourning. Even an image of the funeral procession was altered before release. Most news sources immediately reported Kim Jong-il’s son, Kim Jong-un has succeeded his father. This week, the official report out of North Korea states Kim Jong-un is the supreme ruler of the ruling party and the military, and that the policy against South Korea will not change. “We declare solemnly and confidently that the foolish politicians around the world, including the puppet group in South Korea, should not expect any change from us,” the country’s powerful National Defence Commission, or NDC, announced in a statement read out in strident tones by a state television anchor on Friday.

Kim Jong-il was a character. His son will not be inheriting a pair of ruby slippers, but as a man in his twenties, Kim Jong-un may have a challenge filling his father’s tall hair and platform shoes. What the son inherits is one of the most repressive regimes, nuclear weapons capabilities, and a struggling economy.

The New York Times has a comprehensive page devoted to the death of the leader. But the open questions are about Kim Jong-un’s experience and the direction he will take. “He is believed by some intelligence officials to have been involved in planning the two attacks on the South in 2010, events that may have been intended to create his bona fides as a military leader. Unlike Kim Jong-il, his son has had little time to be groomed in the art of running a dysfunctional country of roughly 23 million people. Administration officials have said that they believe the younger Mr. Kim would have needed another year or so to solidify his position and win the full confidence of North Korea’s military commanders. It is unclear whether, before his death, Kim Jong-il was able to establish any deep roots of allegiance for his son, especially at a time of widespread food shortages and international sanctions imposed for its nuclear weapons development.” However, CNN reports its South Korean sources say Kim Jong-un has ordered the military back to its bases.

“Kim Jong Un won’t do anything about the economy in his first year — he will put everything into politics and maintaining order,” says Lee Young Hwa, an economics professor at Osaka’s Kansai University who is active in the Japan-based human-rights group Rescue the North Korean People. “This will further worsen the economy. Once the political situation has stabilized, he will focus on the economy.”

Countries braced in response. South Korea’s military is on high alert. India maintains diplomatic ties, but fears nuclear proliferation could result from the nuclear trade relationship between Pakistan and North Korea. The U.S. is monitoring the situation closely and is also interested in the nuclear situation.

The path ahead for North Korea is uncertain. There might be friends and there may be dangers ahead on the yellow brick road. But in the end, there’s no such place like the demilitarized zone.

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