SEOUL, South Korea – Kim Jong Il’s youngest son – a 26-year-old who reportedly enjoys skiing and studied English, German and French at a Swiss boarding school – was named North Korea’s next leader in an announcement to top ruling party, government and military leaders, a South Korean lawmaker and newspapers said today.
The announcement naming Kim Jong Un as leader was sent after the nation’s May 25 nuclear test, the Hankook Ilbo newspaper reported, citing unnamed members of South Korea’s parliamentary intelligence committee briefed by the spy agency.
The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper carried a similar report saying North Korea is teaching its people a song lauding the new “Commander Kim.” The paper cited unidentified sources. The National Intelligence Service said it cannot confirm the reports.
The reports about a new leader – the nation’s third – comes at a time of mounting tensions over North Korea’s April 5 rocket launch and the May 25 underground nuclear test, and indications that the North may be preparing to test-fire a long-range missile. Global powers are discussing how to rein in Pyongyang for its nuclear defiance.
Analysts have suspected the saber-rattling is part of a campaign to build unity and support for a new leader to replace 67-year-old Kim Jong Il, who reportedly suffered a stroke last August. Kim has three sons but had not publicly named a successor.
After disappearing from the public eye for weeks last fall, Kim re-emerged to make a busy round of trips nationwide and made his first state appearance at the delayed first session of the country’s new legislature April 12.
Grayer and thinner, Kim limped ever so slightly as he entered parliament and was somber as he presided over a session that provided few clues to his succession plans.
He was believed to want to name a successor in 2012 – the centenary of the birth of his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung – and the regime undertook a massive campaign last year to gear the country up for the 100th anniversary celebrations.
The April 5 launch of what North Korea claimed was a successful bid to send a communications satellite into space was believed part of the campaign to show off the country’s scientific advancements.
But in an abrupt shift in plans, the regime stepped up the pace and in early May launched a “150-day campaign” urging North Korea’s to work harder to build up the country’s economy.
Analyst Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute, a South Korean security think tank, called it a “politically driven” campaign to parade the North’s achievements before its people in a bid to bolster national pride.