Where is the Crown Prince?
August 24, 2006: Who's to be Crown Prince? Kim Jong-il, the rather strange dictator who has ruled the "People's Democratic Republic of Korea" since the death of his father, Kim Il-sung, in 1994, is over 65. For approximately six weeks beginning on July 4th he was out of circulation, making no public or televised appearances. This protracted absence from the public eye, linked with an increasingly haggard appearance in some recent pictures, has suggested to some analysts that he's got to speculate that his health is not good.
Kim has no publicly designated successor. Given the extraordinary cult of personality that the Kims have built since his father took over the leadership of the Korean Communist Party in 1945, a "constitutional" succession would certainly go to one of his sons. Kim has three: Kim Jong-nam ( 35), who is a half-brother to Kim Jong-chol ( 25) and his full brother Kim Jong-un ( 22). The youngest son is apparently Papa Kim's favorite, but there have been no indications that he has groomed any of them succeed to power in the even of his death or disability. Even if Kim has secretly named one of his sons to succeed him, there's no reason to assume the other two might not dispute the choice. A dispute among the brothers over the succession could provide an opportunity for a political or military coup by disaffected elements in the North Korean leadership.
The mass of the North Korean people remain in abject poverty, famine stalks the land. Government response to devastating damage caused by recent torrential rains proved wholly ineffective, and the country is almost totally isolated internationally. Dissatisfaction seems to be increasing, and to be manifesting itself publicly more than at other time in recent decades. And of late there have been reports that in occasional very private discussions with Chinese government or military officials, some senior North Korean political and military leaders have expressed surprising criticism of the Kims' custodianship of the country.
The days of the Kim Dynasty may be numbered.
August 23, 2006: North Korea's rhetoric, which has been pretty shrill and bombastic for over half a century, has gotten even more incomprehensible of late. No one knows why, but now the North Koreans are claiming the right to make a "pre-emptive attack." The cause of all this are joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises (some of them only involving computer simulations), that have been going on for over 30 years. The North Koreans appear to believe these exercises are preparations for an impending attack on them. It's hard to tell what these North Korean broadcasts are trying to say, because so many of them have been repeated endlessly for decades, with no follow-up.