Although many North Koreans know about the pending father-to-son power transfer in their country’s ruling family, talking about the dynastic power succession in public is forbidden in the socialist country. Nevertheless, signs of the power transfer from the current leader, Kim Jong-il, to his youngest son, Jong-un, are evident in the reclusive state these days.
North Korea appears to have established a propaganda song praising the heir apparent as a regular theme during public events, with the latest performance aired on state television. Analysts say the move proves Kim Jong-il’s faith in his third son as the next leader of the state.
According to intelligence sources, the North’s state-run Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station reported on Oct. 9 that Kim Jong-il attended a show at North Hwanghae Provincial Art Theater, south of Pyongyang, and a choir performed the song called “Footsteps” as part of commemoration of the newly built art center. It was the fifth time for the leader to attend an official event where the song was played, according to intelligence officials.
In the Oct. 9 television broadcast, belatedly discovered in South Korea, still photos from the concert show the title of the song displayed in green on an electronic board above the stage, while dozens of men and women sing in ensemble.
“Footsteps,” reportedly written by top composer Ri Jong-o, has been widely interpreted by North Korea watchers here as extolling the valiance of Jong-un. Its title began to appear in North Korean media in February, when the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that soldiers in an army unit sang the song during Kim Jong-il’s inspection visit there. The song surfaced again during an April 26 ceremony marking the founding of the North’s Korean People’s Army.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry would not say whether it was a sign that a power transfer is underway. “We have intelligence indicating the song is for Kim Jong-un, but it’s a matter of interpretation if this means a succession process being consolidated,” ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said.
The ministry also confirmed Oct. 26 that a caption flashed the word “Footsteps” as it was being performed. The song’s lyrics begin: “Tramp tramp tramp / the footsteps of our General Kim / spreading the spirit of February / tramp tramp tramping onwards.” General Kim is believed to be a reference to Kim Jong-un, and February the month of the elder Kim’s birth.
The television presented footage of Kim and his entourage clapping their hands, but it was not clear from the visual material whether they did so to the heir’s song. Kim Jong-il’s entourage during the theater visit included his sister, Kim Kyong-hui, and her husband, Jang Song-thaek, both of whom are believed to be deeply involved in grooming the heir apparent in Workers’ Party directorial posts. Other top party officials, such as Kim Ki-nam and Pak Nam-gi, were among the audience, along with residents of the province.
North Korea watchers likened the move to former leader Kim Il-sung’s praise of his son, Kim Jong-il, in public before his succession. Kim Jong-il, now 67, reportedly suffered a stroke in August last year….
… Cheong Seong-chang, an expert with the non-governmental Sejong Institute south of Seoul, said the North is now directing the succession process in a more subtle way, in contrast to its earlier nuclear and missile tests that were believed to have been aimed at supporting the power transition.
“In the early process of building the succession system, North Korea needed tension with the outside world to tighten internal unity and pursued a military-oriented ultra hard-line foreign policy that completely ignored the positions of other countries,” Cheong said. “The Kim Jong-un succession system has now entered a stable orbit.”