Stuntin’ Like My Daddy: Kim Jung-un and the North Korean Succession

by Jennifer Ho, Research Intern to Visiting State Department Fellow, Ms. Ferial Saeed

Kim Jong-il is in ill health and the quest to groom a suitable successor dominates internal politics in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Of his three sons, Kim Jong-il chose the youngest, Kim Jong-un, to be his successor last year. His second son, Kim Jong-chol,  was deemed too “girlish” to rule and perhaps even more embarrassingly, his eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, also known as “Fat Bear,” was also passed over as a result of his great affection for (and a widely-publicized failed attempt to sneak into) Tokyo Disneyland.

Kim Jong-un is said to have a take-charge attitude reminiscent of his father, and though he is a member of parliament who frequently accompanies his father on inspection visits, the transition may not occur smoothly. His succession conflicts with the Confucian traditions espoused by Kim Jong-il which deem the eldest son to be the rightful heir. Additionally, Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Chang Sung-taek, and O Kuk-ryol, two top-level cronies, are caught in their own struggle to attract foreign investment to the DPRK, the results of which may also influence the transition.


From left to right: Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-chol, Kim Jong-un

The DPRK’s neighbors approach this leadership succession with apprehension – and rightly so – for it has great bearing on nuclear negotiations and consequently, regional and global security. So will Kim Jong-un assume command as planned – and in similar fashion to his father? How much stability can one expect to see in Northeast Asia upon Kim Jong-il’s passing?

Sit back, put your stunna shades on and hazard a guess.


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