The moves came as the reclusive communist country held a rare Workers’ Party meeting to begin a pivotal week in which it plans to celebrate the birth of its founder and launch a rocket in defiance of the West.
The North also named Kim’s father, the late leader Kim Jong Il, the “eternal” general secretary of the party, a reflection of “the unanimous will and desire of all the party members and other people,” state-controlled media reported.
The new titles for the younger Kim accelerate a speedy and apparently stable power transfer; the first secretary position formally puts him atop the Workers’ Party, in a role comparable to that of his father.
Kim, thought to be in his late 20s, inherited the leadership of the impoverished country after his father’s death in December. He has quickly assumed his father’s public profile — a contrast to the ascension of the Dear Leader himself, who stayed in the background for several years after the 1994 death of his father, Kim Il Sung, the founder of the dictatorship.
Kim Jong Il wielded power through three main posts — chairman of the National Defense Commission, general secretary of the Workers’ Party and supreme commander of the military. Until Wednesday, Kim Jong Eun had been given only the last of those titles; he now holds a variant of the second. Experts say he has become the country’s uncontested leader, with enough leverage to consolidate power over the North’s complex political system, which features multiple, and often redundant, party and military groups.
As Kim has traveled the country in recent months, visiting army camps and theaters and attending banquets, North Korea’s state-run media have depicted him as a convivial man, all smiles and big hand gestures.
On Wednesday, an editorial in Pyongyang’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper described him as a “heaven-sent general” who will guide the nation to prosperity.
“We’re now four months after the death of Kim Jong Il, and the succession has gone far smoother, and far more rapidly, than almost anybody anticipated,” said L. Gordon Flake, executive director of the Mansfield Foundation and a specialist on East Asia.
But Kim Jong Eun will face serious tests in the weeks ahead as he confronts international outrage over the North’s planned satellite launch, expected by Monday. Western countries say it is a cover for a long-range missile test that would violate international resolutions.
Both operations use comparable technology, including a three-stage rocket that could conceivably carry a nuclear weapon. The North has said the satellite will simply collect data on weather patterns.
The North has invited a group of foreign journalists to observe the blast, and on Wednesday an official at the space agency’s central command center told them that fueling of the rocket was going on “as we speak.” An Associated Press reporter, on a tour of the command center in Pyongyang, spotted a sign outside that read, “We will defend vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission Comrade Kim Jong [Eun] to the death,” the reporter said on Twitter.
The launch coincides with the centennial celebration of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country’s “eternal president.”
Special correspondent Yoonjung Seo contributed to this report.