North Korea's Transition to Kim Jong-Un

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Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is "The World". North Korea is preparing for a funeral later this week to bid farewell to its dear leader, Kim Jong Il. Meanwhile, Kim's successor, the youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, has a new title. He's been named head of North Korea's ruling party. The World's Mary Kay Magistad has been following these latest developments. She's now in Beijing and, Mary Kay, there are several titles that Kim Jong-Un is now going to assume. Why don't you [xx] them out for us?

Mary Kay Magistad: OK. So perhaps the most important is that he has been acknowledged as being the head of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of the Communist Party of North Korea, and this gives him authority over both political and military matters. This comes on top of the state media in North Korea on Saturday, referring to him as the supreme commander of North Korea's million plus armed forces. If there had been any question of whether the armed forces were going to go along with a twenty something year old leader who hasn't actually served in the military, although he now holds the title of general, it seems that that's been accepted so far.

Mullins: Alright. And what other titles is he assuming?

Magistad: Well, we don't quite know yet. Kim Jong-Un hasn't yet had an honorific attached to his name that stuck. North Korean state media, at one point this week, referred to him as 'the dear leader' at least in translation. That's what we were reading here. It seemed a little. . .

Mullins: Even though that was his dad's. . .

Magistad: Exactly. So it seems a little odd and it seems like they're still sort of trying to figure out what they should call him.

Mullins: Well, if one is to try and read the tea leaves on whether or not there are those who feel as though this new leader of North Korea is unprepared, the pictures tell a lot. The pictures of who is standing next to this new North Korean leader during official events.

Magistad: Right. Just in the last couple of days, Kim Jong-Un's uncle, Jang Song Thaek, was seen standing near him in a general's uniform. It was the first time that the uncle had been seen in a military uniform with Kim Jong-Un thus far. It is believed that the uncle and his wife will be playing some sort of a guiding role. Kim Jong-Un has shown signs of not particularly liking this arrangement of seeing his uncle as being kind of the old guard, so it will be interesting to see how that particular relationship plays out in the coming weeks and months.

Mullins: I wonder also where Kim Jong-Un's older brother who was passed over for the job of the next leader, where he stands on all this politically and how much he's even being shown in public, if he's going to be attending the funeral on Wednesday or not, do we know?

Magistad: Yeah, all really interesting questions. This is Kim Jong-nam who is about forty. There was an unconfirmed report in the Yonhap News Agency, South Korea's news agency today, saying that he had traveled to Beijing and is "under Chinese protection" and that it's unclear whether he'll be going to the funeral or not. Now he's been spending quite a bit of his time in Macau over the past few months. That's sort of a gambling Mecca where a lot of Chinese officials go to spend their money. It's a place that's relatively free, certainly compared to North Korea, but even compared to China, and he's been quoted in recent days saying things like "I don't think that North Korea should have a hereditary leadership and we really should be moving towards having more political reform," and when people have asked him whether he had any interest in becoming leader of North Korea, he said, "Yeah, no. I'm just a son of Kim Jong Il. I'm not leadership material," but of course, people look to him and wonder, you know, what he's really thinking. They look to the second son, Kim Jong-chul, who Kim Jong Il rejected as being too effeminate, one of the last times he was seen was at an Eric Clapton concert in Singapore a few months back wearing an earring and a pair of dark glasses and also didn't really look like leadership material for North Korea as it is today.

Mullins: Well, I guess more will be known later in the week on Wednesday, when we find out who in the family actually makes the trip to the funeral and what transpires there and what's shown to the rest of the world. The World's Mary Kay Magistad in Beijing. Thanks a lot.

Magistad: Thank you, Lisa.