North Korea's tense succession

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North Korea's tense succession

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Governing North Korea and the country’s dealings with the outside have entered a period of suspense. The world is waiting to see how the political-military apparatus will work with the designated successor to the late dictator Kim Jong Il.

His son, Kim Jong Un, thought to be a few years shy of age 30, was brought onto the party platform only last year. The international fact sheet about him is mostly blank. Among the top questions are how will he rule.

Reuters special correspondent Benjamin Kang Lim said: “The North Korean military has pledged allegiance to Kim Jong-Un, meaning there’s unlikely to be a coup d’etat and they’ve basically thrown their weight behind the young Kim. Now the post-Kim Jong-Il North Korean leadership will be ruled by collective leadership instead of a single-man dictatorship, so Kim Jong-Un would have to share power with his uncle, Kim Jong-Il’s brother-in-law, as well as the military.”

His uncle, Jang Song Taek, appointed to head national defence in 2009, is expected to be a main mentor for the young man. There are stark differences, of course: Jang is old school, and, although Kim has spent most of his life in North Korea, he studied in Switzerland. Nations trying to negotiate with Pyongyang hope that recent signs of willingness for dialogue will continue, most notably over nuclear weapons, which North Korea refuses to give up.

Benjamin Kang Lim described the tensions in play: “The missile test on Monday was a warning to the West not to interfere with the situation in North Korea during mourning, but then they are unlikely to conduct more nuclear tests unless they’re provoked.”

The country of 24 million, weakened by famine and communist-managed economic shortfall, has been conditioned to subsist on a war-footing ever since the 1950-53 War ended without a peace treaty.

With nuclear sanctions in place, North Korea survives on donated food, mostly from its biggest trading partner, China.

South Koreans hope there will eventually be reform in the North, which Human Rights Watch says has “some of the world’s most brutalised people”, but if the new Kim does bring a thaw in worldly relations, it is expected to be cautious.