North Korea will likely try to reduce tensions with the US and South Korea to ensure a stable father-to-son power transfer in the communist state, analysts said yesterday.
As North Korea moves toward a second dynastic succession, the regime will focus on easing chronic food shortages and improving living standards to deflect complaints about such an anachronism, they said.
Kim Jong-un, youngest son of ailing leader Kim Jong-il, was given powerful posts in the ruling party on Tuesday, confirming his status as ruler-in-waiting of the impoverished, but nuclear-armed, nation.
The North has already indicated willingness in principle to return to nuclear disarmament talks which it abandoned in April last year, a month before staging a second atomic weapons test. However, Seoul and Washington, which accuse Pyongyang of a deadly March attack on a South Korean warship, have responded warily.
The North denies sinking the ship, but has began making conciliatory gestures to the South, after freeing a US detainee last month. The two Koreas will today hold their first military talks for two years aimed at easing cross-border tensions, Seoul’s defense ministry said.
“In order to stabilize the succession plan, the North must ease economic difficulties and for this purpose, improving ties with the outside world is essential,” Koh Yu-hwan of Seoul’s Dongguk University said.
“Kim Jong-il feels strongly the need to untie the knot himself while he is still alive, and therefore to avoid burdening the junior Kim. Therefore, the North is likely to make peace gestures toward the United States,” he said.
Koh said that Kang Sok-ju, who led nuclear disarmament talks and negotiations with Washington as first vice foreign minister, was last week appointed a vice premier.
“However, the North will not give up its nuclear arsenal until the final stage of any deal,” he said.
Yang Moo-jin of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies said the regime for the time being would focus on increasing food supplies and tightening control over its people.
“As the succession system takes root, it will step up efforts to improve ties with the United States and South Korea, since it will need some success attributable to the leader-in-waiting,” he said.
Kim Jong-il, 68, on Monday -appointed Kim Jong-un as a four-star general. The ruling party followed up on Tuesday by making the son one of two vice chairmen of its central military commission headed by his father.
Analysts said this was a new post tailored for the heir-apparent, which places him right below his father and above everybody else in the 1.2-million-strong military.
Kim Jong-un was also made a member of the party’s central committee.
“Now the crown prince has all he needs to become the next leader,” said Choi Jin-wook, senior analyst with the Korea Institute for National Unification.
Some analysts said the speed of Kim Jong-un’s rise to power may indicate that his father’s health is worse than believed
Kim Jong-il, who took over from his own father Kim Il-sung, suffered a stroke two years ago and is also thought to have kidney problems.
Yang said the senior Kim was relatively healthy, but was in a hurry to install his son as successor because of his own advanced age.
Yang said Kim Jong-il apparently decided that Jong-un, who is in his late 20s, needs more time to take over.