Tuesday, December 20, 2011

North Korea After King Jong-Il

After the unexpected death of North Korea’s ruler, Kim Jong-Il, what will be the fate of the isolated country? Kim Jong-Il died December 17th, 2011 at the age of 69. His death has sparked widespread rumors and speculation.

North Korea has a reputation for instilling fear. While the society is closed to the rest of the world and holds many secrets, they are known for ambitious pursuits to develop atomic weapons as well as their attacks on South Korea. And now the rest of the world holds with abated breath and uncertainty over how the successor, Kim Jong-Il’s son, Jong-un will lead the country.

Asian countries are concerned that Jong-un is too young and inexperienced to lead the nation. While he is the third generation from the Jong dynasty to rule North Korea, Kim Jong-un has only had one year to work under his father. He is said to be in his late 20s and there is a rumor he is married. Except, his birth date and marital status are both unknown. It is also known that he was educated in Switzerland.

The hope is that the country does not fall into disarray because of a power struggle. In the past, Jong-II ruled with an iron fist. Any opposition to his policies was crushed. Some say that Jong-un is shrewd. If that is the case, he will need that wit to keep the order in a country that is accustomed to strict policies. It will also calm some of the nervousness of surrounding Asian countries.

However grim this may appear, his lack of working with his father may be a blessing in disguise. Because Jong-un was educated in Switzerland, there is a chance he may be more interested in participating in the global community instead being the ruler of an isolated, aggressive nation. Even though he is well aware of his father and grandfather’s policies, he may have a desire to lead a country for the 21st Century.

Moreover, he may have great support from the inside. His father put his sister and her husband, Jang Song-thaek in a significant leadership position involving politics and the military. It is said that Jang could be an important advisor to Jong-un.   

If, on the other hand, we use history as an indicator, there is the example of Alexander the Great who inherited the throne from his father, Philip, at the age of 20. Alexander continued the expansion his father started. Macedonia had Persia as a major enemy. Alexander conquered them after a 10-year battle. North Korea has South Korea as an enemy. Will Jong-un follow in the footsteps of his father and demonstrate the ambition of Alexander? Or will he join the global community and lead a country that has pinned up growth in the way China has?

I would be surprised if Jong-un is completely unprepared. His father’s health was already showing signs of weakness. After watching the 2 generations preceding him rule in the face of isolation and being educated in a country as liberal as Switzerland, I would be willing to say, he will be just fine. We live in a world that puts too much emphasis on age being a determining factor for leadership. Yet, we continue to experience war and financial calamity while under the leadership of the experienced elders. Perhaps it is time for a new paradigm in leadership. 

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