The Son Has Yet to Rise in North Korea

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Byline: Jerry Guo

If western analysts guess right (certainties are rare when speaking of North Korea), this is the week when the ailing Kim Jong-il's heir apparent is to make his long-awaited debut. Until now, the outside world hasn't been quite sure what Kim's No. 3 son, Kim Jong-un, looks like, or even how old he is. But the ruling Korean Workers' Party is convening its first major gathering in 30 years, and the 1980 meeting was when the Dear Leader became formally positioned to succeed his father, Kim Il-sung. The succession question is even more worrisome today than it was back then, with the now nuclear-armed nation possibly teetering on the brink of economic disaster.

At present, however, the man to watch is not Jong-un, now in his late 20s. The true next in line is the 69-year-old Dear Leader's brother-in-law Jang Song-taek, 64. Over the past few years he has become Kim Jong-il's right-hand man and, analysts say, has been groomed as regent for the Brilliant Comrade, as propaganda campaigns have nicknamed the young Kim. Educated in Switzerland and never having played a role in North Korea's all-powerful military apparatus, Jong-un lacks the power base that Kim Jong-il amassed in the course of his career. If and when the son steps into the father's shoes, he's likely to be little more than a figurehead for his first few years. …