[VIEWPOINT]Signs of a hereditary successionUntil 2003, the issue of Kim Jong-il’s successor had not drawn much attention from the media. But then last year, the academic community began to raise controversy over this issue, stemming from interpretations of the joint editorial carried by the Rodong Shinmun, the organ of the North Korean Workers’ Party, and other state-controlled media of North Korea in January. As the death of Kim Jong-il’s wife, Ko Young-hee, became known late last year, the succession of the North Korean leadership has suddenly emerged as the focus of attention from the media and North Korea experts.
Recently, the issue attracted people’s attention once again, as controversy arose over the interpretation of a radio commentary broadcast by the North’s Central Broadcasting Station on Jan. 27 under the title, “The Way of Seongun Politics,” or “The Way Military-first Policy Should Follow.”
Some said this commentary hinted at “a hereditary succession of power” from Kim Jong-il to his son, but others disagreed. Because the original text of the commentary of the Central Broadcasting Station is difficult to access, ordinary people must be confused in deciding which interpretation is right.
The commentary highlighted the statements of the late Kim Il Sung and his father, Kim Hyong-jik: “If I don’t accomplish the national task of achieving independence and building a socialist society, it must be fulfilled by my son and even by my grandson’s generation if my son fails to accomplish it.”
It also introduced Kim Jong-il’s remarks: “In obedience to the Great Leader’s teachings, I will surely build a great strong socialist country on this land and present the people with a unified fatherland.”
It also said, “The age was different when they expressed their far-reaching visions. But the great goal they pursued was the same hot resolve that they must save the fate of the fatherland and the people. This is the thought of revolution in succession: If I cannot achieve it, it must be accomplished by generation to generation in succession to the end.”
Those who say the commentary did not hint at a hereditary succession of power from Kim Jong-il to his son contend that it just mentioned Kim Jong-il’s governance according to his late father Kim Il Sung’s teachings. They argue that the report made no direct remarks such as “If I cannot achieve it, it must be achieved from generation to generation,” which would definitely refer to a hereditary succession.
Of course, according to the Central Broadcasting Station’s commentary, Kim Jong-il did not make such remarks. But it is inappropriate to say that the position of Kim Jong-il is different from those of Kim Hyong-jik and Kim Il Sung, because the commentary said that Kim Hyong-jik, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il have the same “thought of revolution in succession.”
Also, it is problematic to ignore Kim Il Sung’s statement and question Kim Jong-il’s remarks only. North Korea has reported Kim Il Sung’s statement of 1943 many times: “If I don’t accomplish the national task of achieving independence and building a socialist society, it must be fulfilled by my son and even by my grandson’s generation if my son fails to accomplish it.”
In other words, it means that the task that was not fulfilled by Kim Il Sung must be carried out by Kim Jong-il and even by Kim Jong-chul or Kim Jong-un if Kim Jong-il fails to accomplish it. Therefore, Kim Il Sung’s statement had already suggested a three-generation hereditary succession of power. It is clearly unreasonable to interpret this as if Kim Jong-il, who said he would accomplish Kim Il Sung’s “teachings,” had a different stance from his father.
Of course, we cannot discuss the possibility of the hereditary succession of power from Kim Jong-il to his son based on the literature alone. But there have actually been many things that hint at the secret and systematic preparations of nominating the successor of Kim Jong-il.
For example, since August 2002, the military has systematically led the personality cult of Kim Jong-il’s wife, Ko Young-hee, as the mother of the state (which some interpret is in preparation for grooming Kim Jong-chul as the successor). In March 2004, Jang Song-taek, who was second in line to Kim Jong-il and was considered a possible rival of Kim Jong-chul, was relieved of his duties. Also, the first generation of the revolution has retired and a rapid generational shift has taken place in all sectors of society.
We should not commit the folly of being deliberately blind to the move toward a hereditary succession while it is occurring just because we do not wish it to happen.
* The writer is a researcher at the Sejong Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Cheong Seong-chang