BEIJING - North Korea's crown prince Kim Jong-eun, unveiled this week, has "a
violent character and is prone to display double standards. If he is not
satisfied with something, he may not express it immediately, but then he won't
keep his cool for a long time either."
That's the analysis on the junior Kim by fortune-tellers in South Korea who
have studied his face, including the size of his forehead, the arrangement of
his eyes, his cheekbone contour, and the thickness of his lips, according to
South Korean headlines on Friday. The fact that it takes fortune-tellers to
discern what kind of person the son of Dear Leader Kim Jong-il is reveals how
little the outside world actually knows about Jong-eun, believed to be aged
The North's official media released its first picture of Jong-eun on
Thursday, days after he was appointed a four-star general by his father and
given two powerful ruling Workers' Party positions.
It's not clear whether the insight gleaned from the fortune-tellers will be a
topic when United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief Leon Panetta
arrives in Seoul on Saturday to meet with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak
to discuss the succession issue.
Pronouncement on Kim Jong-eun's future is different among North Korea watchers.
The fact that Pyongyang has revealed photos and television footage of the
mysterious Jong-eun, earlier than many observers had expected, "indicates that
Kim Jong-il is confident about the junior Kim's leadership ability", said
Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher on North Korea at the Sejong Institute
think-tank near Seoul, who believes that much of the power transfer has already
Lu Chao, a Chinese expert on North Korea at the Liaoning Academy of Social
Sciences, is skeptical. "I would see this as just the very first step of the
long succession process. What they did was just introduce Kim Jong-eun to the
public. There will be a long way ahead for Kim Jong-eun to go from here," he
Based on the photo released from North Korea, Jong-eun is estimated to be 175
centimeters tall and weigh about 90 kilograms. But other than that, the outside
world still knows very little about him, except for one person - Kenji
Fujimoto knows Jong-eun in an "up-close and personal manner", literally. He had
been Kim Jong-il's personal sushi chef for 13 years until 2001, when he escaped
to Japan, his home country. He was also Jong-eun's "buddy" who peed standing
side-by-side in the woods when they visited Mount Paektu. He lived in the same
house as Jong-eun and watched how the boy grew up, until the age of 20.
Importantly, Fujimoto was the first person to predict that Jong-eun would be
the anointed one among Kim Jong-il's three sons. This was in his book I was Kim
Jong-il's Cook published in 2003. At that time, he wasn't taken
seriously by North Korea watchers, who thought Jong-eun was too young and that
the power game for the crown would eventually be staged between his older
brothers, Jong-nam and Jong-chul.
"Seven years have since passed, and Fujimoto's prediction has turned out to be
correct," said Yoo Dong-ryul, a senior analyst on North Korea at the Police
Science Institute in South Korea. Yoo met Fujimoto recently in Japan, under an
arrangement made by the Japanese government.
Fujimoto revealed some of the most detailed observations on Kim Jong-il's
decadent private life in his book. Since then, he has received various threats
and been under police protection.
"Fujimoto knows about Kim Jong-eun more than anyone else in the world. North
Korea fears that Fujimoto might reveal personal details about the
heir-designate which are bound to damage Jong-eun's reputation," said Yoo.
"Even though Kim Jong-il has not personally ordered his [Fujimoto's] execution,
his loyal followers may take matters up on their own. This is particularly the
case as no Western analysts know Kim Jong-eun personally."
According to Fujimoto, Jong-eun addresses Kim Jong-il in English as "Papa" when
in private. But when Jong-eun has to address his father in public, he is more
indirect. For example, he will say, "This instruction comes from 'above'."
Fujimoto, having lived in the same house as Jong-eun, closely observed how he
displayed an assertive character and a talent for leadership at a young age.
This was particularly evident when Jong-eun played basketball with his peers
and after a game gave them feedback and encouragement.
In his conversation with Yoo, Fujimoto revealed that in Kim's family, Jong-eun
was called the "little general”, while the term "general" was used for his
older brother, Jong-chul. One day, one of Jong-eun's aunts again called him
"little general". And this time, Jong-eun balked. "Why am I a 'little
general'?" he shot back to his aunt. Kim Jong-il watched the scene. Afterwards,
the Dear Leader started calling Jong-eun "General Kim".
Now, with Jong-eun being a four-star general and holding party posts, it is
expect he will start to solidify power in a more public and visible manner, and
the first step will be to start building a massive personality cult.
In an internal North Korean document titled "Study Material With Regard to the
Greatness of Our Respected Comrade Kim Jong-eun", which was distributed to
cadres at the Workers' Party conference this week, the North's propaganda
machine listed five of Jong-eun's "achievements". He's a genius in artillery
engineering; he was the prime architect behind the North's rocket launch in
April 2009, and he's a talented computer engineer. Other reports claim that he
choreographed the massive April 5 fireworks display to celebrate the birthday
of the late Kim Il-sung, his grandfather and founder of the Kim dynasty.
"North Korea is also telling its people that Kim Jong-eun is contributing a lot
to the country's 2012 goal of creating a powerful and prosperous country," Yoo
Jong-eun will also have to take control of national ideology. In North Korea,
only the highest leader has the authority to "interpret" the juche (self-reliance)
ideology. Kim Jong-il did it and it was enshrined as a book. Jong-eun is
expected to do something similar, giving his interpretation of the sun-gun
(military first) policy, which is North Korea's contemporary governing
Unlike Kim Il-sung, who gave Kim Jong-il the authority to control the Workers'
Party first, Kim Jong-il gave his son the authority to control the military
first. "It's because now is the period of carrying out the military-first
policy," said Yoo.
All-in-all, building a personality cult, interpreting ideology, controlling the
Worker's Party and cabinet, as well as controlling the military, will be major
platforms for the young heir to prepare to become the next leader, analysts
Yoo believes the process will take about five years. "If the succession process
is complete by then, things will be okay, even if Kim Jong-il dies," Yoo said.
"However, if the elder Kim dies before that time, then there is a possibility
of civil unrest. Then, the old generals will try to persuade the young leader
to govern the country with them to restore stability. This is where the idea of
'collective leadership' surfaces."
Observers believe the succession will progress smoothly as long as Kim Jong-il
is alive and watches over the process. In other words, the likelihood of a
successful power transfer increases in proportion to the elder Kim's longevity
- he is 68 but said to be in ill health.
"Kim Jong-eun has a long way to go," said Lu, the Chinese analyst. "We cannot
deny that if Kim Jong-il dies suddenly, there is room for confusion."
Sunny Lee is a Seoul-born columnist/journalist, who went to schools in
the US and China. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org