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.

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

He has written for The Washington MonthlyThe American ProspectThe Moscow Times, The Chronicle Herald, and The European Journal of Political Theory. Gould was previously an editor at the Journal of Democracy, co-published by the Johns Hopkins University Press and the National Endowment for 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.

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