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Apparent Heir: Kim Jong Un’s Ascension and the Challenge to South Korea

October 13, 2010

Having spent the past week in Seoul in the aftermath of the September 28 Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) conference and on the eve of the unprecedented 65th anniversary celebrations of the WPK’s founding, I was struck by just how few facts South Korean analysts (and the rest of the world!) yet have at their disposal in analyzing the latest North Korean developments. Despite rampant speculation in South Korea, most analysts are at a loss to provide evidence for exactly why the conference was delayed from early September, or to fully grasp the internal implications of a complex and elaborate set of new personnel announcements designed to reconstitute a party infrastructure that had been allowed to decay since the twenty-first Party Congress held in 1993. Ruediger Frank has provided an excellent wrap-up on the conference over at Foreign Policy.

The widely projected central purpose of the conference, to put in place the foundations for a smooth leadership succession, was crystal clear. Equally clear is that Kim Jong Il remains in charge for now; no other single individual holds sufficient power across all institutions to assert uncontested power or challenge Kim Jong Il’s authority.

Read the full piece on the Council on Foreign Relations blog Asia Unbound.

Scott Snyder directs The Asia Foundation’s Center for U.S.-Korea Policy. He can be reached at ssnyder@asiafound-dc.org.

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