When it comes to North Korea, the question of “Who Would Rule North Korea Next” is an important one. The nuclear-armed nation, made up of 25 million people, has been led by the Kim dynasty since its founding in 1948. Its current leader, Kim Jong Un, is the third in line, assuming the role of Supreme Leader in 2011 after the death of his father Kim Jong-il. But as Kim Jong Un’s health becomes increasingly precarious, speculation has increased in recent months as to who would succeed him.
On the surface, the obvious choice is Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong. She has been given increasing levels of power and prominence in recent years and is currently the first vice director of the Workers’ Party of Korea, a powerful political organization in North Korea. She is widely seen as the most powerful woman in North Korea, and is widely considered to be Kim Jong Un’s most trusted confidante and advisor. In terms of her political ambitions, Kim Yo Jong has been largely coy since her rise to power, though experts believe it would be unwise to completely discount her chances of succeeding her brother.
Another likely candidate is Kim Jong Un’s younger brother, Kim Jong Chul. He was passed over in favor of his brother as successor to their father Kim Jong-il, and has largely been out of the public eye since then. Though there is not much information about his current whereabouts, it is believed that he is closely tied to the current regime and is supported by the military. He is also seen as a staunch supporter of the North Korean regime, and is considered to be a safe choice to maintain the continuity of the Kim dynasty.
The final potential successor is Kim Han Sol, Kim Jong Un’s half brother. He is the son of Kim Jong-il’s fourth wife, also known as Ko Yong Hui, and is a young man of just 27 years old. Han Sol has spent much of his life outside of North Korea and is seen as a progressive figure by some in the international community. He is believed to have studied International Relations at university in Macau, and has spoken publicly on several occasions in favor of building closer ties with the outside world.
What is clear is that whichever of these three potential successors the North Korean people end up choosing, there will be a seismic shift in the nation’s political landscape. All three have different goals and ideals, and North Korea’s future will depend largely on how these views shape policy.
Kim Yo Jong’s Vision for North Korea
Kim Yo Jong is known to be a skilled politician and strategist, and it is clear from her public appearances and recent political maneuvers that she seeks to maintain the status quo. She has notably sought to bolster relations with South Korea and has been vocal in her opposition to the U.S. Her vision for North Korea is one of continued economic development and further integration with the global economy.
If Kim Yo Jong is to take power, there is likely to be a warmer relationship with regional powers and an easing of international tensions. However, many experts believe that fundamental political freedoms, such as freedom of expression, will remain severely curtailed.
Also of concern is the lack of meaningful reform in terms of North Korea’s notorious human rights issues. The country is known for its abysmal treatment of its own citizens, from prolonged imprisonment to public executions. Under Kim Yo Jong’s rule, little is likely to change in this area.
This said, it is unlikely that Kim Yo Jong will seek to pursue a policy of repression and isolation. Rather, she is likely to seek to extend the economic reforms initiated by her brother while maintaining a firm grip on power and keeping the population in check.
Kim Jong Chul’s Vision for North Korea
The second potential successor to Kim Jong Un is his younger brother, Kim Jong Chul. Little is known about his current views on policy, but it is believed that he is largely in agreement with his brothers’ vision for North Korea. He is seen as a safe pair of hands to maintain the status quo, and would unlikely take any risks with regards to the country’s political or economic future.
Kim Jong Chul is also believed to be a staunch believer in North Korea’s cult of personality, which promotes the Kim dynasty and its values of self-reliance and continuous development. His rivals for succession are likely to come from outside the Kim family, and he is likely to remain steadfast in his opposition to any kind of democratic reform.
Kim Jong Chul’s apparent lack of charisma and penchant for conservative policy may count against him when it comes to gaining public support. He is likely to rely heavily on the backing of the powerful military and intelligence circles, as well as on his own family’s network of political supporters.
It is likely that Kim Jong Chul, if he should take power, will be more conservative in his economic policies than his more reform-minded brother. He is likely to favour the continuation of the current economic structures and seek to maintain the status quo.
Kim Han Sol’s Vision for North Korea
The third potential successor is Kim Han Sol, Kim Jong Un’s half-brother. He has the potential to be an agent of real change in North Korea, and is viewed by many as the most progressive of the three potential successors. Unlike his brother and sister, Han Sol has spent much of his life outside North Korea and is seen as a more open-minded leader with a greater understanding of the world beyond its borders.
Although he may choose to continue his brother’s policy of rapprochement with the West, he is likely to pursue a more open policy towards the rest of the world. This could include a loosening of restrictions on personal freedoms, the promotion of culture and arts, and the making of more meaningful economic reforms that benefit the ordinary citizens of North Korea. In addition, he could also seek more meaningful dialogue with South Korea, Japan and other regional powers, which could potentially lead to an end to the long-running tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Han Sol could also look to pursue an ambitious economic agenda that goes beyond the relatively small reforms enacted by his brother. This could include the privatization of state-owned enterprises and the introduction of laws that promote innovation and encourage the growth of small businesses. He could also pursue closer ties with the international financial community, which could in turn unlock much-needed capital for the North Korean economy.
Despite his progressive leanings, however, it is unlikely that Han Sol would seek major changes to the country’s existing political structures. Instead, he would likely seek to foster gradual change and reform from within, allowing North Korea to continue as an authoritarian regime with a heavy emphasis on loyalty and obedience.
Possibilities for North Korea’s Future
The future of North Korea is, as ever, uncertain. The Kim dynasty has held power in the country since 1948, but with Kim Jong Un’s health faltering the question of who will succeed him is becoming increasingly pressing. Each of the three potential successors has their own ideas and agendas, and the country’s future will depend largely on who is able to assume control.
Kim Yo Jong is the most obvious candidate, and it is likely that she would continue the policies of her brother while tightening her grip on power and maintaining the status quo. Her brother Kim Jong Chul, meanwhile, is a staunch believer in North Korea’s cult of personality and would seek to maintain the current system. Lastly, Kim Han Sol, with his progressive views and international experience, could potentially seek to usher in a new era of reform and openness.
Whichever of the three ends up assuming power in North Korea, it is clear that the country is at a crossroads. The next leader will have to navigate a complex landscape of political and economic tensions, and the future of the country itself rests on their shoulders.