By Sergey Anisimov and Vladimir Fedoruk
North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has been officially named successor to his late father Kim Jong-il. The fears expressed by Seoul, Tokyo and Washington that a change of leadership could destabilize the situation on the Korean Peninsula have proved futile.
The death of Kim Jong-il, who ruled the Communist nation for 17 years, evoked an uneasy feeling of uncertainty as experts competed to predict the future. The forecasts ranged from an escalation of the country’s conflict with South Korea to a change of government. Washignton, Tokyo and Seoul were bracing up for a change of power in Pyongyang. South Korea went as far as announcing a military mobilization campaign, apparently acting under the impact of the recent test launches of North Korean missiles.
But no tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been reported so far. While Pyongyang mourns its late leader, the country’s authorities have outlined the country’s political future. For the first time in decades, North Korea will be ruled not by a single man but by a group of politicians. The former leader’s successor, Kim Jong-un, will rule in tandem with his uncle which means that the army and security services will automatically fall under their control. Yevgeny Kim of the Institute of the Far East, comments:
“Kim Jong-il’s younger sister and Kim Jong-un’s aunt sits on the Politbureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, while her husband is deputy chairman of the State Defense Committee and head of the Central Committee’s administrative department. He oversees all appointments in the army, security service and the interior ministry. Thus, all major appointments are under their control.”
Kim Jong-un, who is about 30 years old, is too young to rule the country. His father took office at the age of 52 after 20 years of getting ready for such a senior position. The young successor began to receive instruction from his father fairly recently but on a regular basis. In the past year, he accompanied his father everywhere and acquired first-hand experience in what it’s like to run the country’s industry, construction, transportation, farming, fishery, army and culture. In the opinion of Alexander Vorontsov of the Center for Korea Studies, the ruler’s age is not of crucial importance in a country like North Korea:
“It will be quite a challenge for Kim Jong-un to have to stand at the helm, being so young and inexperienced. But in North Korea, power handover scenarios are always drawn up in advance. Thus, there are reasons to believe that the situation will remain calm and under control.”
Indeed, even though the country has lost its leader, there have been no reports of instability or attempts to stoke the smoldering conflict with South Korea. Moreover, even overt provocations from South Korea have remained unnoticed. Thousands of leaflets calling for toppling the government were dropped over North Korea’s territory the day after the news of Kim Jong-il’s death came in. Experts are warning that more provocations of this kind are expected as both Seoul and Washington might increase their pressure on Pyongyang. Expert Konstantin Asmolov of the Institute of the Far East, has this to say:
“There are too many hawks ready to do away with the North Korean regime. Kim Jong-il is dead and his young successor has yet to prove himself to win trust. The temptation to overthrow the regime might prove too strong. However, the South Korean society is too divided to be able to unite against the North. There are forces in Seoul which form a strong opposition to the neo-conservatives calling for a change of regime in the North.”
Despite signs of stabilization, the situation on the Korean Peninsula remains uncertain. The unsettled differences between Seoul and Pyongyang could send the entire Asia and Pacific into chaos. And there is also uncertainty about North Korea’s young leader, who will have to rely on the “old guards” to establish himself in the country and enhance his standing.