SEOUL, South Korea — The youngest son of Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s reclusive leader, has been promoted to a military general, that country’s official Korean Central News Agency reported early Tuesday, the clearest sign yet that he is in line to succeed his father as the country’s leader.
A brief dispatch by KCNA said the son, Kim Jong Un, and five others had been made generals in the Korea People’s Army. It was the first time that KCNA or any North Korean news outlet had mentioned by name the son, who is either 27 or 28.
The new roster of generals also included Kim Kyong Hui, the elder Kim’s sister. She is the wife of Jang Seong Taek, often regarded by outside analysts as the No. 2 man in the North and a potential caretaker for the government should Kim Jong Il, 68, who is in failing health, become incapacitated.
The news came hours after delegates to a rare gathering of the ruling Workers’ Party arrived in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, on Monday as the party began final preparations for a meeting that could provide further signals about Kim Jong Un’s debut. Photographs from Pyongyang showed banners and posters announcing the meeting, and there has been speculation in the South Korean media about the possible anointing of the younger Kim.
Little is known about Kim Jong Un, and most of what is has been culled from defectors and websites that collect information from sources in the North. In the North Korean media he has been referred to as the “Young General,” “Youth Captain Kim” and even “CNC,” short for computer numerical control, to demonstrate his bona fides as a leader for the 21st century. He is said to have attended boarding or military school in Switzerland and spent several years in the military.
Korea experts had long tapped his brother, Kim Jong Nam, 39, as the most likely heir, until he took an ill-fated trip to Tokyo Disneyland using a fake passport. All the same, Kim Jong Un might have remained an obscure figure, but his father had a stroke in 2008, quickening the timetable for the succession.
In a conservative Confucian society that reveres age, selling the public and, more important, the elite on a leader in his 20s is not easy. State-controlled media seem to be making a virtue of necessity, emphasizing not only Kim Jong Un’s computer expertise but also his freshness and youth, circulating songs, poems and posters singing his praises. He has lately accompanied his father on factory tours and was said to have joined him on a recent trip to China.