TOKYO – North Korea’s communist regime is, by most accounts, set to complete its second dynastic transfer of power, this time from Kim Jong-il, who has ruled since 1994, to his youngest son, Kim Jong-eun. The general assembly of North Korea’s Workers’ Party, now underway for the first time in 44 years, is the clearest sign yet that “Dear Leader” Kim, who is seriously ill, is passing the crown in the hermit kingdom founded by his father, Kim Il-sung.
One reason why a dynastic succession is taking place is that Kim Il-sung created a national ideology, Juche, which mixes communism and autarky with a heavy dose of Confucian values. Confucianism exalts an idealized bond between father and son as the model for all human relations, including between ruler and ruled. So, just as a Confucian son’s absolute duty is to revere his father, the absolute duty of a Confucian subject is to revere the ruler.
Moreover, Kim Jong-il, like his father, has consistently appointed members of his family to positions of power. Indeed, Kim Jong-eun, the third son of Kim Jong-il and his late consort Ko Young-hee, was mooted as his father’s successor almost a year ago.
North Korean propagandists proclaim Kim Jong-eun “the Young General,” but whether he will exercise the same absolutist authority as his father is an open question. Not only is he young and inexperienced, but his aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, Kim Jong-il’s sister and the wife of the second-ranking figure in North Korea’s hierarchy, Chang Song-taek, may balk at power slipping through her fingers.