NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 78 (October 29, 2009) |
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK
Propaganda Song for Heir Apparent Played in North Korea
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Although many North Koreans know about the pending father-to-son power transfer in their country's ruling family, talking about the dynastic power succession in public is forbidden in the socialist country. Nevertheless, signs of the power transfer from the current leader, Kim Jong-il, to his youngest son, Jong-un, are evident in the reclusive state these days.
North Korea appears to have established a propaganda song praising the heir apparent as a regular theme during public events, with the latest performance aired on state television. Analysts say the move proves Kim Jong-il's faith in his third son as the next leader of the state.
According to intelligence sources, the North's state-run Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station reported on Oct. 9 that Kim Jong-il attended a show at North Hwanghae Provincial Art Theater, south of Pyongyang, and a choir performed the song called "Footsteps" as part of commemoration of the newly built art center. It was the fifth time for the leader to attend an official event where the song was played, according to intelligence officials.
In the Oct. 9 television broadcast, belatedly discovered in South Korea, still photos from the concert show the title of the song displayed in green on an electronic board above the stage, while dozens of men and women sing in ensemble.
"Footsteps," reportedly written by top composer Ri Jong-o, has been widely interpreted by North Korea watchers here as extolling the valiance of Jong-un. Its title began to appear in North Korean media in February, when the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that soldiers in an army unit sang the song during Kim Jong-il's inspection visit there. The song surfaced again during an April 26 ceremony marking the founding of the North's Korean People's Army.
Seoul's Unification Ministry would not say whether it was a sign that a power transfer is underway. "We have intelligence indicating the song is for Kim Jong-un, but it's a matter of interpretation if this means a succession process being consolidated," ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said.
The ministry also confirmed Oct. 26 that a caption flashed the word "Footsteps" as it was being performed. The song's lyrics begin: "Tramp tramp tramp / the footsteps of our General Kim / spreading the spirit of February / tramp tramp tramping onwards." General Kim is believed to be a reference to Kim Jong-un, and February the month of the elder Kim's birth.
The television presented footage of Kim and his entourage clapping their hands, but it was not clear from the visual material whether they did so to the heir's song.
Kim Jong-il's entourage during the theater visit included his sister, Kim Kyong-hui, and her husband, Jang Song-thaek, both of whom are believed to be deeply involved in grooming the heir apparent in Workers' Party directorial posts. Other top party officials, such as Kim Ki-nam and Pak Nam-gi, were among the audience, along with residents of the province.
North Korea watchers likened the move to former leader Kim Il-sung's praise of his son, Kim Jong-il, in public before his succession. Kim Jong-il, now 67, reportedly suffered a stroke in August last year.
Kim Jong-un was born in 1984 as the second son of Kim Jong-il's third wife, Ko Yong-hui. He is regarded as the leader's favorite among his three sons and has been described as resembling his father the most in appearance and temperament. His older brother, Jong-chol, is 28, and his half-brother, Jong-nam, is 38.
Reports said the 26-year-old Jong-un has been for years serving as a mid-level official in the North's all-powerful National Defense Commission, through which Kim Jong-il controls the military, as well as political and economic affairs.
The current leader was internally designated as successor at age 32 in 1974 during a Workers' Party meeting, and was publicly declared heir to his father during a party convention in 1980. His father and the country's founder, Kim Il-sung, died of a heart attack in 1994.
None of Kim Jong-il's three sons has had major posts in the government, military or the ruling Workers' Party. The senior Kim, in contrast, had consolidated power for two decades in various party and government posts by the time of Kim Il-sung's death.
The second son, Jong-chol, 28, who was also born to Ko Yong-hui, seems to be sidelined in the succession due to a weak temperament stemming from a hormone-related disease.
Jong-nam, the oldest son, who was born to the leader's late second wife, Song Hye-rim, has been adrift in China since 2001, when he was caught trying to visit Disneyland in Tokyo with his son and wife on a forged passport.
A senior Seoul official said that North Korea recently halted media publicity over a future father-to-son power transfer in the country while increasing reports on current leader Kim Jong-il. Beginning late last year, state media stepped up propaganda efforts to justify the expected transfer of power from Kim to one of his sons, but such publicity came to a halt in mid- July this year, Vice Unification Minister Hong Yang-ho said at a forum on Oct. 8.
"North Korean media continued to broadcast reports that appeared to indicate the legitimacy of a hereditary succession since the end of 2008, but such reports were put on hold after July 15, 2009," Hong said in a closed-door civic forum on North Korea policy.
North Korean media often employed phrases like "bloodline of Mt. Paektu," Kim Jong-il's supposed birthplace, or "inheritance" when lauding the country's leadership, something analysts here see as a reference to the planned succession. The use of such terms also peaked around the time the senior Kim was being trained as heir, they say.
While references to the succession have subsided, the vice minister said North Korea appears to be intensifying social control to maintain national unity around the senior Kim. Media reports of Kim's public activities totaled 110 as of Oct. 1, compared to 74 reported during the same period last year, the vice minister noted.
Despite the drop in media references, watchers say the succession process is picking up pace internally. A Taiwanese photographer recently posted a photo on the Internet taken in the northeastern North Korean town of Wonsan last month, showing a poster that carried the heir's name in red alongside his father's name.
Cheong Seong-chang, an expert with the non-governmental Sejong Institute south of Seoul, said the North is now directing the succession process in a more subtle way, in contrast to its earlier nuclear and missile tests that were believed to have been aimed at supporting the power transition.
"In the early process of building the succession system, North Korea needed tension with the outside world to tighten internal unity and pursued a military-oriented ultra hard-line foreign policy that completely ignored the positions of other countries," Cheong said. "The Kim Jong-un succession system has now entered a stable orbit."