The son and heir apparent to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il joined a delegation of senior military officials for a top-secret, week-long visit to China in mid-June in spite of Beijing’s claims that no such trip occurred.
The visit was intended to shore up support for the inexperienced Kim Jong-woon, Mr Kim’s 26-year old son, and reassure North Korea’s closest ally that a smooth leadership transition was already under way, military, intelligence and diplomatic sources have told the Financial Times.
The Swiss-educated Mr Kim has apparently been given the title “bright leader”, following a tradition in which his father is known as the “dear leader” and his grandfather Kim Il-sung, late founder of the totalitarian Stalinist state, is referred to as the “great leader”.
The younger Mr Kim accompanied Jo Myong-rok, first vice-chairman of North Korea’s National Defence Commission, which is regarded as the country’s top governing body, and Jang Song-taek, a member of the Defence commission and Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law.
Mr Jang, who is a powerful political figure in his own right, has been put in charge of establishing Kim Jong-woon’s legitimacy, analysts say. The North Korean military delegation arrived by air in Beijing on June 10 and met senior Chinese officials during a clandestine visit that took them to Guangzhou, Shanghai and Dalian. They returned to Pyongyang on June 17.
The itinerary closely matched that followed by Kim Jong-il on his last official visit to China in January 2006, although this latest trip was conducted far more discreetly and the delegation was housed in secure military hotels. This month, China’s foreign ministry denied any knowledge of such a visit. The ministry’s official spokesman said at a subsequent press conference that the report was totally false and compared it to something out of a spy novel.
It is not clear whether Kim Jong-woon met Hu Jintao, China’s president, but a person involved in aspects of the visit said that Mr Kim did meet Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping, the man expected eventually to succeed Mr Hu, as well as former Chinese president Jiang Zemin. The talks focused on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and its testing of a nuclear weapon as well as the North’s requests for China to forgive some bilateral debt and provide more energy aid.
But the main purpose of the visit was to establish Kim Jong-woon’s legitimacy as successor and give him some valuable experience in dealing with his country’s giant neighbour, analysts said. “Kim Jong-woon is too young and it is too early for him to meet world leaders on his own so that’s why he had to travel with his uncle and other senior figures,” said one analyst, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The elder Mr Kim is believed to have suffered a stroke last year and has looked frail and sick on the few official occasions where he has been shown on North Korean state media recently.
At a bilateral summit in Tokyo on Sunday, Taro Aso, Japan’s prime minister, and Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s president, said they “can never accept” North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons.
Tags: Kim Jong Woon, China, North Korean Heir, Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung, “Bright leader”, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Taro Aso, Lee Myung-Bak, Nuclear weapons, power transition,