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Kim dynasty under scrutiny as son rises

Sydney Morning Herald - September 30, 2010

John Garnaut, Beijing The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, has promoted his son to the second-most senior position in the country's military and also to the leadership of the Workers' Party.

The moves rounded off a remarkable rise for a 20-something whose name had never been published in North Korea before Tuesday.

In other developments, Seoul yesterday agreed to a request by Pyongyang that they resume military contact, following a two-year stand-off during which North Korea conducted its second nuclear test and was blamed for killing 46 South Korean sailors by torpedoing a warship.

China's President, Hu Jintao, was quick to offer his "warmest congratulations" to Mr Kim for being "re-elected" as head of the Workers' Party and also forming "a new highest leading body".

But even in China analysts are far from convinced that the Kim family dynasty can rule forever. "It is difficult to continue family rule into a third generation and to convince people, even in a socialist country," said Cai Jian, at the Korean Studies Centre at Fudan University.

"This will become more and more difficult as the society develops and North Korea has to get along with the international community," Professor Cai said. "It may be OK to see through the succession, but the longer it goes on the more unlikely it becomes."

Kim Jong-un, who is believed to have been born in 1983 or 1984, was given a new position as vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission and elected to the Central Committee of the Workers' Party.

Kim Kyong-hui, the sister of the "Dear Leader", was promoted to the politburo of the Central Committee while other relatives and family loyalists were promoted or retained senior positions.

Zhang Liangui, a North Korea expert at Beijing's Communist Party School, said the new official titles were not significant in themselves. "In North Korea those who have real power may not have titles and those who have titles may not have real power," he said.

Analysts say the continuity of North Korea's dynastic chain is a constraint on the possibilities for change.

"Our reform was based on criticising Chairman Mao's planned economy," said Professor Cai. "If North Korea were to follow this path it would break the regime's ruling foundation because North Korea is a hereditary system and Kim Jong-il won't criticise what he inherited from his father."

Professor Cai said there was little prospect of rebellion: "The people are quite used to their hard lives... and they have nothing to compare with. "North Korea's fundamental policy has not changed," Professor Zhang said. (with Sanghee Liu)

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