Updated December. 29, 2011 00:24
New North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will begin trying to stand on his own two feet as the mourning period for his father ended Wednesday with a state funeral.
Neighboring countries including South Korea will inevitably have to revise their strategies toward North Korea depending on whether the new leadership in Pyongyang will hold on to power and how the impoverished state will respond to challenges at home and abroad.
○ Kim Jong Un`s moves?
When North Korean President Kim Il Sung died in July 1994, his son and successor Kim Jong Il ruled the country at the behest of his father without officially taking the supreme post for three years after the mourning period. The junior Kim, who held the titles of supreme commander of the North Korean military and chairman of the National Defense Commission over the period, finally took the post of general secretary of North Korean Workers` Party in October 1997.
Kim Jong Un is in a different situation, however. While Kim Jong Il was named official successor 20 years before Kim Il Sung`s death, the new leader had just about 14 months of grooming before his father`s death. All of his official titles are vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers` Party and a general of the North Korean military.
Yet Kim Jong Un will likely assume the posts of supreme military commander and party general secretary soon in an attempt to institutionally supplement his weaknesses. Kim Jong Il used the appellations "great leader" six months after his father`s death and "head of the party central committee" 18 months later.
This time, however, North Korea used the titles for the new leader right after Kim Jong Il`s death on Dec. 17. Certain experts predict that Kim Jong Un will assume the post of supreme military commander on Sunday, the first day of the new year, at the earliest.
"He will undergo the process of becoming party general secretary around Kim Il Sung`s birthday (April 15)," said Kim Yong-hyeon, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.
The National Intelligence Service of South Korea told the National Assembly Tuesday that Kim Jong Un will likely take the post of supreme military commander at an early date and rule the North at his late father`s behest.
○ Scenario diplomacy
The first litmus test of whether the new North Korean leadership will take power will likely be the third round of talks between North Korea and the U.S. that was originally scheduled for Dec. 22 but postponed due to Kim Jong Il`s death. Considering that Pyongyang-Washington nuclear negotiations resumed a month after Kim Il Sung`s demise in 1994, experts say the postponed talks will likely be held in January. It cannot be ruled out, however, that Pyongyang makes a sudden about-face on the nuclear issue if hard-liners have a stronger voice.
Due to the unpredictability, hectic diplomatic efforts surrounding the situation on the Korean Peninsula are being made behind closed doors. Lim Sung-nam, Seoul`s chief nuclear negotiator, departed for Washington Wednesday for a meeting with U.S. special envoy to North Korea Glyn Davies.
Next week, Kurt M. Campbell, assistant U.S. secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, will visit South Korea, China and Japan in the first overseas trip to major Northeast Asian countries by a senior U.S. State Department official since Kim Jong Il`s death. Around Jan. 16 next year, the chief nuclear negotiators from Seoul, Washington and Tokyo will likely meet in Washington.
"The purpose of the meetings is to discuss responses to the situation in North Korea under various scenarios before Pyongyang makes any gesture," said an official at the South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry.
The possible scenarios include: North Korea resumes nuclear talks in an extension of the previous negotiations; North Korean military hard-liners play hardball and raise their demands; North Korea remains silent for a long time due to internal power struggles; North Korea conducts further provocations includes a nuclear test.
On top of these possibilities are political factors stemming from South Korea and other powers surrounding the Korean Peninsula holding presidential elections next year.
Seoul and Washington plan to discuss their strategies customized for such scenarios. For starters, both countries will focus on inducing Pyongyang to the negotiating table rather than pressuring it. In particular, they are reportedly coordinating detailed responses to situations under mid- to long-term measures.
"It is imperative that allies cooperate closely over the situation on the Korean Peninsula, a Seoul official said. South Korea needs to maintain balance in the hectic diplomatic war that will occur."