By Ara Jo.
North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-il, died of a heart attack on Saturday (December, 17) leaving behind 17 years of absolute and corrosive power that no one in the Hermit Kingdom dared to challenge.
He officially assumed Chairmanship in 1997 after Kim Il-Sung’s death in 1994. During his rule, Kim Jong-il conducted two underground nuclear explosions and long-range missile tests, trying to boast of North Korea’s military power, resulting in increasingly worsening relationships with the Western world. The tensions between North Korea and the United States came to their peak in 2009 when the second nuclear device was set-off, resulting in the USA’s abandonment of North Korea’s denuclearisation attempts.
With the national economy suffering and international food aid halted, Kim Jong-il undertook a monetary reform in November 2009 where a new currency was created at a ratio of one to one hundred to the old won. Immediately following the reform, prices of rice increased precipitously, which quickly led to the failure of the reform and exacerbated the food crisis.
According to a report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately eight million North Koreans suffer from chronic malnutrition, making up one-third of the population.
There is a dearth of information about Kim Jong-un, the successor to Kim Jong-il. Unlike his father, he has had little time to be groomed to run the country, which supports the speculation that a ‘caretaker’ regent might emerge. However, North Korean international analysts have said that there has been no such indication of it so far.
Administration officials in Washington have commented they believe Kim Jong-il would have needed another year to solidify his son’s position, due to Kim Jong-un’s youth and inexperience
Amid growing uncertainties over whether the young leader will be able to hold onto power, some experts reported positive signs of change under the nascent leadership of Kim Jong-un. Some analysts said there were indications the new leader has already begun retiering senior officials from their positions and recruiting new staff in their 30’s and 40’s. Others pointed to signs of growing commercial links with China as a growing number of North Koreans visit China to learn from its state-run market economy. John Delury, Professor of International Studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, commented that economic reform will be the single biggest challenge the new leader faces.
North Korean officials declared a national mourning period from the day of Kim Jong-il’s death through to December 29th. His body will lie in state at the Kumsusan mausoleum in Pyongyang, where the body of his father, Kim Il-Sung, lies in a glass case for viewing.