Kim Jong Un meets S'Korean delegation amid elevation to top posts

Updated On: Dec 27, 2011

North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong Un welcomed a private South Korean mourning delegation and offered his thanks, as state media showered him with top titles, apparently demonstrating that the leadership transition was proceeding smoothly so far.

Kim Jong Un called to be “supreme commander” of N. Korean military

On Saturday, as generals visited the Kumsusan mausoleum where Mr. Kim Jong Il’s body lay in state, North Korean media called on Kim Jong Un to become “supreme commander” of the military. That official plea, along with the television footage of the generals and Mr. Jang Song Thaek’s appearance in a military uniform, signal that the military is spearheading Mr. Kim’s succession.

A commentary by official news outlet Rodong Sinmun wrote, “We urge Comrade Kim Jong-un to embrace the people’s call on him to become our supreme commander… We will complete the great task of our songun revolution by upholding Comrade Kim Jong-un as our supreme commander, our general.”

The “songun”, or “military first” revolution is Mr. Kim Jong Il’s policy of emphasising the role of the Korean People’s Army  in policing the country and dictating foreign relations. The policy has been blamed for thousands of deaths as North Korea channels resources away from the starving populace to the military.

The state-run media’s call for Mr. Kim Jong Un to lead the military suggests that he is on pace to take full control of the country. Analysts outside North Korea had predicted that a regent might rule while Kim Jong-un gained more experience. While he could still be subject to power plays by influential leaders, it appears for now that he will not have to share control publicly.

"This shows that Jong-Un now has a firm grip on the military and the North is heralding this to the outside world," Professor Kim Yong-Hyun of Dongguk University in Seoul said. "It also suggests that the North will continue with its Songun policy at least in the foreseeable future."

South Korea and the US have been worried about the North undergoing a power struggle that could push the North to lash out against its southern neighbour. But the announcement of the continuation of the “songun” policy raises the same fears. Analysts have speculated that Mr. Kim Jong Un was involved in planning the North’s sinking of the South Korean warship and the shelling of a border island last year.

On Saturday, North Korean media reported that the Mr. Kim Jong Un released truckloads of fish to Pyongyang residents, presenting them as a gift from his deceased father. The only families who are allowed to live in the capital are those considered extremely trustworthy, which includes families of party members and military officers.

Report: Kim Jong-il Son Cleared as Top Military Commander (New York Times, 24 Dec 2011)

Report: Kim Jong-Il's son hailed as 'supreme commander' (AFP, 25 Dec 2011)

Kim Jong Un described as head of Korean Worker’s Party Committee

Two days later on Monday, the Rodong Sinmun described Mr. Kim Jong Un as the head of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party — a post that apparently makes him top official in the ruling party. The official Korean Central News Agency also called him a “sagacious leader” and “dear” comrade while reporting that he again paid respects to his father. State media have already branded him as a "great successor" and an "outstanding leader", signs that Mr. Kim Jong Un's succession is well under way.

New Leader meets with South Korean delegation

On Monday, the new North Korean leader met a private delegation of South Koreans and gave them his thanks after they expressed condolences over the passing of his father.

The lead delegates were the widow of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who pushed forward a “sunshine policy” of engagement with the North and held a ground-breaking summit with Mr. Kim Jong Il in 2000, and Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, whose late husband oversaw the development of an industrial park and tourist site in the North. Television images released by North Korea's state media showed Mr. Kim Jong Un shaking hands and speaking briefly with both women.

North Korea previously sent delegations to Seoul when the women's husbands passed away, and the South Korean government said the private delegations to the North are reciprocity for those past actions.

On Tuesday, the two lead South Korean delegates met Kim Yong Nam, president of Presidium of North Korea's parliament and considered to be the nominal head of state. The delegates were to return to South Korea later Tuesday.

The visit is Mr. Kim’s first face-to-face encounter with any visitors from South Korea since assuming top positions when his father’s death was announced.

South Korea previously said it would not send official mourners to Mr. Kim Jong Il’s funeral, which angered North Korea. The North had reiterated that if South Korea prevented private delegations from visiting Pyongyang for Mr. Kim’s funeral on Wednesday, it would result in “unimaginably disastrous consequences” for inter-Korean relations. But Mr. Kim Jong Un’s meeting with the private delegation of mourners appeared to be cordial.

Kim Jong Il’s funeral is scheduled for Wednesday, but little information has been released. North Korea has previously said foreigners would be forbidden and it is unknown if the event will be broadcast within the North.

Report: Kim Jong-il Son Cleared as Top Military Commander (New York Times, 24 Dec 2011)

Report: Kim Jong Il's heir meets with SKorean delegation (Associated Press, 27 Dec 2011)

Report: New Signs of Kim’s Ascendance as S. Koreans Visit (New York Times, 26 Dec 2011)

Report: South Koreans Meet Kim Jong Eun (Wall Street Journal, 27 Dec 2011)

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