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Is There A Power Shift In North Korea Underway

Kim Jong Il, who inherited his father's power following his 1994 death at 82, has been dependent on the aged leaders who helped the senior Kim establish the communist regime in the northern half of the Korean peninsula. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Lee Jong-Heon
UPI Correspondent
Seoul (UPI) Jan 04, 2007
Will North Korean leader Kim Jong Il bring a change to the country's power structure dominated by aged revolutionary leaders in their 70s or 80s? This is the question of the moment following the death of the country's Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun at age of 78. But possibility seems not so high because Kim has heavily relied on aged revolutionary leaders who helped him inherit his father's leadership in the communist world's first dynastic power transfer.

Paek, who has served as the North's diplomatic chief for the past decade, has died, according to Pyongyang's state-run media on Wednesday.

The North did not provide any more details, including when or how he died, just saying Kim Jong Il expressed his condolences over Paek's death.

But China's Xinhua News Agency said Paek died from disease on Tuesday. He was reportedly suffering from chronic kidney problems and received medical treatment in Malaysia in July 2006.

It was unclear who would succeed Paek. North Korea experts in Seoul say First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Suk Ju is likely to take over the top diplomatic post. Kang, 58, has led the North's nuclear negotiations with the United States since 1993.

Paek, who was appointed as foreign minister in 1998, has long been considered as one of the closest confidants of Kim Jong Il. He played a key role in building North Korea's foreign policy and strategy toward rival South Korea for the past decades.

He served as deputy head of the international department of the country's ruling Workers' Party in 1968 when its national founder Kim Il Sung made aggressive diplomatic policies. Paek was engaged in negotiations with the South until the late 1990s.

Officials and analysts here say Paek's demise may signal a generational shift in the North's leadership saddled with aged, ailing revolution leaders in their 70s or 80s.

Among the North's top 50 officials, 24 are in their 70s and 10 in their 80s, according to a research report from Seoul's main newspaper JoongAng Ilbo, released on Thursday.

The report, compiled on the basis of documents from Seoul's intelligence agency and the Unification Ministry, said only seven are in their 60s. The age of the others were unknown, but are mostly likely in their 70s or older.

Among 486 North Korean leaders, 20.6 percent are in their 70s, 15.8 percent ion their 60s and 13.4 percent in their 80s, the JoongAng report says. The average age of the North's top 20 officials is 76, according to other intelligence reports.

Kim Jong Il, who inherited his father's power following his 1994 death at 82, has been dependent on the aged leaders who helped the senior Kim establish the communist regime in the northern half of the Korean peninsula.

He has still used his father's "yuhun" (teachings left behind by the deceased), in an apparent bid to tame the revolutionary leaders who were loyal to the late leader.

Reversely speaking, Kim, now 65, could maintain his power despite huge troubles largely on the back of strong support from the aged leaders, indicating he can hardly overhaul the power structure.

The country's Number 2 man, Jo Myong Rok, chief of the General Staff of the People's Army and vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission chaired by Kim, is 79. Kim Yong Nam, who serves as ceremonial head of state as chairman of the presidium of the legislative Supreme People's Assembly, is also aged 79.

The North's Number 4 leader, Jon Byong Ho, a Workers' Party secretary possibly in charge of the country's nuclear development, is 81. Minister of the People's Armed Forces Kim Il Chol is 74, among others.

But a generation shift seems near at hand because a number of the country's aged leaders are suffering from critical diseases, such as cancer and diabetes. They have depended on treatment in foreign hospitals due to the North's inferior health care system. Among them, Jo was treated for renal failure in China between 2001 and 2003. Other officials, such as Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il, also received treatment for diseases overseas.

Since Kim Jong Il tool power in 1994, 16 out of the country's top 50 officials have died, including Party Secretary Kye Ung tae and People's Armed Forces Minister O Jin U.

Indicating Kim was preparing for a generation shift in the power structure, he has ordered the Cabinet and the Workers' Party to name economic technocrats to head many of the country's foreign missions in a move to learn from outside economies, according to sources in Seoul.

The order comes after Kim made a nine-day trip to China's southern booming commercial cities early last year, such as Guangzhou, Zhuhai and Shenzhen, to study the thriving market-opening economic programs.

Source: United Press International

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US, Japan To Draft Plans For Taiwan, North Korea Crises
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 04, 2007
Japan and the United States are considering joint plans to coordinate the response of their armed forces if China invades Taiwan or North Korea strikes Japan, news reports said Thursday. US and Japanese defense and foreign affairs officials would next month start studying various scenarios of military confrontation in Taiwan, reflecting US unease over China's growing military power, the Kyodo News agency reported.

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