“Let’s unite around the General Kim with loud steps,” read a front-page editorial in last week’s state-run newspaper, in an apparent reference to Kim Jong Eun. “Victory is ours.”
Analysts and foreign government officials have recently noted numerous signs that Pyongyang is redoubling its efforts to ensure a successful father-to-son power transfer. South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said Thursday that North Korea is strengthening its ban on outside media information that could undermine domestic propaganda. At a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday, Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) asked diplomats for an explanation of North Korea’s “non-understandable” behavior, including last year’s military strikes on a South Korean warship and island.
“Everything that the North Korean government does — domestically and internationally — is aimed at one goal,” responded Stephen Bosworth, the top U.S. official for North Korean policy. “And that is perpetuation of the regime.”
“I’d be more particular,” said Kurt M. Campbell, the State Department’s top East Asia official. “It’s the survival of the family.”
According to high-level North Korean defector Kim Kwang Jin, a former operative in Kim Jong Il’s financial network, North Korea is trying to boost Kim Jong Eun’s image by linking him to the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung. Around the time that Kim Il Sung died, in 1994, North Korea’s economy collapsed — although largely because of reductions in Chinese and Soviet aid. Even so, Kim Il Sung remains a “God-like figure” for North Koreans, Kim Kwang Jin said.
So North Korea has surrounded the next-generation leader, thought to be 28 years old, with a network of Kim Il Sung’s cousins (by marriage) and loyalists. It has created a Kim Jong Eun propaganda song by revising the lyrics to an old tune that North Koreans associate with the Kim Il Sung era. According to Kim Kwang Jin, the effort extends to physical appearance as well. Kim Jong Eun wears a jacket similar to the one Kim Il Sung wore as a young man, and his haircut — a jet-black mushroom cap — bears a resemblance to Kim Il Sung’s in his early years.
“It is very hard for them to find the legitimacy for another succession,” said Kim Kwang Jin, who recently released a report on the succession. “So they are clinging to the grandfather’s legitimacy.”