North Korea's 'Great Successor' meets visiting high-profile mourners


FURTHER CLUES have emerged as to who will actually wield power in North Korea following Kim Jong-il’s death.

His appointed successor Kim Jong-un met a visiting group of mourners from South Korea and state TV prominently showed the young successor’s uncle in a general’s uniform.

Kim Jong-un has been officially hailed as the “Great Successor” and flagged as the “Supreme Commander” of North Korea’s 1.1 million-strong army.

However, despite his dynastic suitability, there have been concerns about his youth – he is in his late 20s – and his relative inexperience. It looks increasingly like he will be the supreme leader in North Korea, although he will have considerable help behind the scenes from experienced relatives.

Kim Jong-un’s position has been swiftly reinforced since his father’s death from heart failure on December 17th.

Yesterday, he met delegates from the south, including the widow of former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, the architect of the “sunshine” policy of engagement with the North who held the fist summit with the North in 2000.

Also taking part in the delegation was Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, whose late husband had powerful links to the North. The North had warned that if private delegations were barred from attending the mourning events, there would be “unimaginably disastrous consequences”.

The delegation went to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang, where Kim Jong-il’s body is lying in state.

Also yesterday Kim Jong-un was referred to in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper as head of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, which also contained an entreaty for him to become leader of the army.

“We urge Comrade Kim Jong-un to embrace the people’s call on him to become our supreme commander,” the editorial in the official Workers’ Party organ ran. “We will complete the great task of our songun revolution by upholding Comrade Kim Jong-un as our supreme commander, our general.”

This appeal to Kim Jong-un is the standard etiquette – the paper entreats the leader to become head of the army, and he graciously accepts.

Who controls the leadership in North Korea is closely watched by the country’s neighbours, as the North has nuclear warheads and has been involved in a number of high-profile attacks and stand-offs in recent months. This includes the sinking of a South Korean battleship and the shelling of an island in 2010.

No information has been released officially about the make-up of the power structure, so much revolves around de-coding the positions that leading figures occupy and even what they wear.

Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, was seen on North Korean TV wearing the general’s uniform for the first time and standing with a row of military leaders, which is read as a sign he has managed to gain influence within the powerful army.

Mr Jang became part of the family when he married the daughter of the country’s revolutionary founder, “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung, in 1972.

In a sign of the geopolitical strategic importance of the North, China and Japan held talks about the situation on the Korean peninsula.

Japan’s prime minister Yoshihiko Noda told Chinese premier Wen Jiabao their two countries shared a stake in preserving stability in North Korea in a new phase. “The death of Secretary-General Kim Jong-il has brought East Asia to a new phase,” Mr Noda told Mr Wen at the start of bilateral talks in China’s capital.

Beijing is the North’s only significant ally and Chinese oil and food has largely propped up the North Korean economy. However, Japan has had a long-term feud with North Korea over the kidnapping of its nationals decades ago and the decision to test missiles in close proximity to Japan.

Both leaders agreed to seek an early resumption of long-stalled six-party nuclear disarmament talks that North Korea abandoned in 2009. China has tried to maintain equilibrium in the region by hosting six-party nuclear disarmament talks since August 2003. The negotiations bring together North and South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

Kim Jong-il’s funeral is set to take place on Wednesday and there will be a memorial on Thursday.