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Saturday, September 5, 1998 Published at 22:03 GMT 23:03 UK


World: Asia-Pacific

North Korea: Land of the rising son

Kim Jong-il: Portrayed as a paragon of filial loyalty

The BBC's Asia analyst, Angie Knox, looks at the prospects for Kim Jong-il as North Korea celebrates its 50th anniversary.

North Korea's de facto leader Kim Jong-il already holds the titles of head of the army and of the Communist Party; the presidency is the last of the three top posts left vacant by the death of his father, Kim Il-sung, in 1994.

If Kim Jong-il does indeed become president, he will become the first dynastic successor to the leadership of a communist country.

'Dear Leader'

But there's no sign that he will also take on his father Kim Il-sung's customary title of Great Leader.

Instead the Dear Leader - as the younger Kim is known - is more often portrayed as a paragon of filial loyalty, extending his father's legacy and credited with turning North Korea into an ideological and military power.

To the outside world, things look a little different. Since Kim Il-sung's death, the North Korean economy has crumbled even further, floods have ravaged agricultural production, and aid workers say an estimated two million people have died from food shortages over the past three years.

'Sunshine policy'

Yet the communist government under Kim Jong-il seems as firmly in power as ever - confounding predictions of its imminent collapse.

Kim Jong-il is already head of the armed forces - the fifth largest in the world - even though he has no military background.

Many analysts believe he holds power only with the support of the country's top military leaders.

So there's little indication that he will antagonise the army by switching scarce resources to other needy areas: such as overhauling the country's ageing industrial infrastructure or introducing Chinese-style economic reforms.

When he becomes head of state, Kim Jong-il might be expected to push forward foreign policy initiatives.

South Korea's President, Kim Dae-jung, has called for summit talks with his northern counterpart as part of his "sunshine" policy towards Pyongyang.

But most analysts believe that even as president the reclusive younger Kim is unlikely to agree to such a meeting.

What Kim Jong-il will be looking for is progress in relations with the United States. North Korea wants Washington to lift sanctions and provide more economic support.

Otherwise Pyongyang has threatened to restart its nuclear programme. The latest missile test is a powerful reminder that North Korea, although poor and isolated, remains a potential threat to regional and global security. And with Kim Jong-il at the helm, that's unlikely to change.



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