NPR logo North Korea Watchers Looking For Signs Of Succession


North Korea Watchers Looking For Signs Of Succession

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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There's something big going on in North Korea today, but even the experts aren't sure exactly what it is.

Party functionaries from all over the country were summoned to a major conference in the capital Pyongyang. Reports say military units were deployed in the capital, possibly to pass in review in the kind of boot-stomping military parade so beloved by autocratic leaders.

Korea watchers are hoping this conference will give them more clues to who will succeed the ailing "Dear Leader," Kim Jong Il.  It's thought that he's maneuvering to pass the mantle to his youngest son, Kim Jong Un.

If so, don't expect an official press release  North Korea is not called "the Hermit Kingdom" for nothing.  It's the most secretive society in the world.

If the North Korean government releases any information at all, analyst Ken Gause says, he'll be looking to see whether Kim will pave the way for his son by promoting him to key positions in the ruling party and the commission that controls the military.

He'll also be looking to see if vacant posts in the party hierarchy are filled by people with loyalties to the "Dear Leader" or his powerful brother-in-law.  (One sign that Kim Jong Un is a favorite is that he already has a sobriquet of his own, "Brilliant Comrade.")

Gause, who works at the research group CNA, says he started his career as a Kremlinologist, trying to peer into the secret working of the rulers of the former Soviet Union.

That was nothing compared with the North Koreans. "This is Kremlinology, graduate level," he says.  "North Korea is more opaque by an order of magnitude."