By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times
SEOUL, South Korea — Like the Soviet Union during the Cold War, North Korea plays out its politics out almost exclusively behind iron gates, leaving the outside world to speculate based on such evidence as a person’s placement or fashions in photos of official state functions.
The enduring secrecy is no small feat at a time of drone and satellite surveillance in a nation with the planet’s most wired nation, South Korea, at its doorstep.
After of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s death earlier this month, government-watchers are left to grasp at tea leaves to predict the machinations of change as Kim’s chosen successor and youngest son, Kim Jong Un, seeks to shore up support among the military to begin the Kim family’s third generation of power,
On Sunday, North Korean state-run television aired video of the insider who is expect to guide the youngest Kim in the first and most fragile period of his reign. Jang Song Taek, Kim Jong Un’s uncle, was shown wearing a military uniform with a general’s insignia, hinting at what many assume to be his emerging role as a go-between with the nation’s powerful military generals.
Jang was paying his respects to Kim Jong Il, whose body lies in state at Pyongyang’s Kumsusan Memorial Palace before a lavish government funeral on Wednesday.
The appearance was the first time Jang was seen in public in military uniform, according to officials from Seoul’s Unification Ministry.
As internal leadership developments progressed in Pyongyang, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda arrived in Beijing on Sunday to meet with Chinese officials about how to ensure stability in North Korea.
“I would like to exchange views and information in detail so as to avert a harmful effect on peace and stability on the Korean peninsula,” Noda said before leaving Tokyo.
In Pyongyang, there have been other subtle signs of a new era of leadership. State media has encouraged citizens to begin referring to Kim Jong Un with the title of “supreme leader of the revolutionary armed forces” as he begins to appear out of the shadow of his father.
Jang and his wife, Kim Hyong Hui, are most certain to become critical players in both the short and long run, many say.
Kim, the daughter of the Communist nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung, is already a high-ranking Workers’ Party official,and Jang is a vice chairman of the powerful national Defense Commission. South Korean intelligence experts predict that new key posts will soon become bestowed on the two.
Both are 65, more than twice the age of the new North Korean leader, who many suspect is 28. In a Confucian culture where age demands respect, many say the two will lend credibility to the young Kim.
Within the North Korean leadership, titles are among the clues to a political player’s rising importance.