North Korea Preps Kim Jong Il's Mystery 20-Something Son for Rule

When trying to maintain control of an economically desiccated slave state, it's best to plan ahead: Days from now, Choe Sang-hun reports, the power brokers around the de facto leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Kim Jong Il, will hold the first congress of the ruling Workers' Party in decades. The agenda for the secretive ceremonial conclave: to lay groundwork for the eventual transfer of power to Kim's third son, Kim Jong Un. If the transition succeeds, it will be the first time that a Communist regime has ever extended dynastic rule past a second generation.

Little is known about the son, believed to be in his late 20s, and no photos or public sightings of him have been reported since he attended a Swiss school as a teenager. After his father's stroke in 2008, however, his grooming as heir picked up speed. ... North Korean media have not mentioned the son by name, but propaganda has hinted about the virtues of transferring power to a younger generation. Kim Jong-il, who took over when his father died in 1994, began building his "military first" leadership platform 50 years ago as a teenager, official media say.

... Historically, the Kim family has used party caucuses to purge political enemies, as well as proclaim long-term visions for the country. Recently, there has been an unusually large number of reports about top-ranking North Korean officials being executed, killed in mysterious traffic accidents or declared missing.

... "I think [Kim Jong-un] is chosen exactly because he is young," said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul. "In case of his father's sudden death, Kim Jong-un -- inexperienced, without power base, embarrassingly young -- will have no choice but to obediently follow the instructions of the old guard. He will be a dictator, but merely a rubber-stamping dictator. This is what the people in the position of power want."

Read the full story at The New York Times.

Presented by

J.J. Gould is the editor of TheAtlantic.com. More

Gould has written for The Washington Monthly, The American Prospect, The Moscow Times, The Chronicle Herald, and The European Journal of Political Theory. He was previously an editor at the Journal of Democracy and a lecturer in history and politics at Yale University. He has also worked with McKinsey & Company's New York-based Knowledge Group on global public- and social-sector development and on the economics of carbon-emissions reduction. Gould has a B.A. in history from McGill University in Montreal, an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics, and a Ph.D. in politics from Yale. He is from Nova Scotia.

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.

Video

'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.

Video

What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM

More in Global

Just In