Written by: Joe Sciabica
With the death of North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-Il, the question occupying most diplomats and world leaders’ minds is, will Kim Jong-Un continue North Korea on the same path or be the face of a crucial change for the nation?
The death of Kim Jong-Il on December 17, the former Supreme Leader of North Korea, has left behind a position that will be filled by his third son, Kim Jong-Un. Predictions of North Korea’s actions, domestic and international, are uncertain, leaving many to speculate about possible different scenarios. Kim Jong-Un will either act as a conservative hardliner as was his father or bring about reform that may fundamentally change the North Korea that has existed for the past 59 years.
There is evidence to show that both scenarios are entirely possible, illustrated mostly by Kim Jong-Un’s past experiences. It is strongly supported that Kim Jong-Un received a Western education while studying in Switzerland. Students who knew him when he was younger have stated that his English was quite skilled and also possessed an enthusiasm for Western pop culture. Moreover he is an avid fan of the NBA.
Statements from Kim Jong-Il’s personal sushi chef, Kenji Fujimoto, say that from conversing with Kim Jong-Un that he believed North Korea was a backwards nation regarding technology. Some believe that because of Kim Jong-Un’s exposure to Western culture he may be more willing to improve relations with the U.S. or possibly set North Korea on a path similar to that of China over the past decade. However, it must be remembered Kim Jong-Il was also a fan of Western theater, but this did little to soften his position.
Aside from Kim Jong-Un’s education, his past is also crucially different from his father in that he lacks much political or military experience. Kim Jong-Il held political positions for 14 years before his own father died and took leadership of the nation. Kim Jong-Un was only selected to succeed his father two years ago and was just given a military position as a general a little over a year ago.
It could be the case that because of his lack of experience, Kim Jong-Un may need to show a feat of military strength in order to legitimize and consolidate his new position as Supreme Leader, which may lead him down a path that North Korea has been on since the Korean War. In an interview with Bruce Klingner, Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation, Klingner stated that it was entirely possible that Kim Jong-Un would share power with the military, whether this was a decision made by his late father, the military or Kim Jong-Un himself.
In any event, this is a milestone in the turmoil of international relations that is the history of North Korea. Keen eyes will be watching the East to see which path Kim Jong-Un will lead the country.