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North Korea After Kim Jong-Il
WASHINGTON - December 19 - CHRISTINE AHN, christineahn at mac.com,
Ahn is executive director of the Korea Policy Institute and a member of Korean Americans for Fair Trade. She said today: “While Kim Jong Il’s death comes as a great shock, his illness since 2008 has long been reported in the media, and had set in motion succession plans for Kim Jong-Eun, his youngest son believed to be in his late 20s, to assume leadership. For the past two years Kim Jong-Eun accompanied his father at all major official gatherings, including a visit to China last year where he apparently received the support of the government there.
“While many speculate that Kim Jong-Il’s passing will lead to political instability, what is clear is that the succession plan has strong internal support. The succession was formalized at the Worker’s Party conference in September 2010, with the support of experienced leaders from the Worker’s Party and the military.
“Kim Jong-Il’s death comes ironically just as tensions in U.S.-North Korea relations appear to be easing, as a result of agreements reached this weekend in Beijing. It is expected that the the United States will soon announce that it has agreed to send 240,000 tons of food aid to North Korea in exchange for North Korea’s agreement to suspend work on its nuclear enrichment program. This is the first significant diplomatic breakthrough in four years towards engagement between the two countries, hopefully to be followed by many more leading to easing of tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, and between North and South Korea.
JOHN FEFFER, johnfeffer at gmail.com
Feffer is author of “The Future of U.S.-Korean Relations” and co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. He just wrote the article “Two Leaders, Two Deaths” about Kim Jong Il and Czech leader Vaclav Havel who also just died.
Feffer said today: “Of course, it’s very difficult to predict what will happen in North Korea. I’m sure that government officials in Washington and Seoul are meeting now to debate precisely this issue. It was generally accepted that Kim Jong Il was not in peak health but that he had recovered somewhat from his earlier difficulties. So his death comes as a surprise. We all expected that he would make it at least until his birthday (February 16) and his father’s birthday (April 15), when the next steps in the succession would have likely taken place. Still, he himself knew that he didn’t have a lot of time left. So that was why he had already begun to accelerate the succession process for his son, Kim Jeong Eun.
“Is Kim Jeong Eun ready to take over? Probably not. Most analysts expect that Jang Song Thaek will be the power behind the throne. The military will remain the most powerful and effective institution in North Korean society. Pyongyang will take pains to demonstrate that Kim Jong Il’s death will not herald political upheaval.
“Rather than wait for North Korea to formulate its post-Kim Jong Il policy, the United States and South Korea should take this opportunity to make an overture to the new leadership in Pyongyang. They should move forward quickly on food assistance and on setting up another round of nuclear negotiations. The North Korean government may well fall back on its most conservative impulses at a time of unexpected transition. But whatever support there is for more dramatic reform inside the Pyongyang elite, the leadership in Washington and Seoul should think creatively about how to encourage those tendencies through proactive policy offers.