LOS ANGELES — The son of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on Tuesday made his first public appearance since his father’s death, bowing before a glass coffin containing his father’s body.
The anointed successor to his father, Kim Jong Un, wearing a black tunic suit, was flanked by senior North Korean leaders and top military and ruling Workers’ Party officials, according to a photo released by the official Korean Central News Agency.
The North Korean propaganda machine sought to assert Kim Jong Un’s inevitable ascension to lead the Communist government. The government’s official news service issued dispatches quoting people swearing fealty to the late leader’s youngest son, who before last year was hardly known to the North Korean public.
“We will absolutely entrust our destiny to General Kim Jong Un,” Pak Song Chol, a 45-year-old factory manager, was quoted as saying by the Korean Central News Agency.
Kim Jong Un, still in his 20s, has before him what seems an impossible task — rescuing a failed state, and perpetuating the family dynasty into a third generation.
As late as 2010, Kim Jong Un was so protected from scrutiny that very few knew exactly what he looked like, having only seen a long-ago snapshot of a smiling boy with bright eyes, reportedly taken at a European boarding school.
During that period South Korean and Japanese media desperately sought a photo of him. Kim was considered so intangible that he sometimes seemed like a phantom. North Koreans who knew of his existence dared not mention his name.
The secrecy seemed to be tactical, carefully calculated to build up the charisma he may be lacking and to imbue him with the near-supernatural powers North Korean propaganda attributes to his father and grandfather, who ruled North Korea since World War II.
After attending a German-speaking public school in Bern, Switzerland, where he was registered as the son of a North Korean diplomat, the son is believed to have returned to North Korea in 2000. He obtained two degrees, one in physics at Kim Il Sung University and another at the Kim Il Sung Military Academy.
In September 2010, in an apparent coming-out, Kim was promoted to the rank of four-star general.
Analysts speculated that Kim’s late father engineered a reshuffling of personnel in recent years to put trusted confidants in place to pave the way for the inexperienced young man to take power. Kim’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who has held key positions in the military and secret police, was promoted to the No. 2 leadership spot in 2010. Some have speculated the uncle and his wife might serve as a regent for Kim.
Lin reported from Los Angeles, Demick from Shenzhen, China, and Glionna from Seoul, South Korea.