Tuesday, August 16, 2011

North Korea's PR-challenged leader

North Korean Heir Apparent Is No PR Hit

TAIPEI, Taiwan (Oct. 15) --
Despite having finally made his first public appearance this week at a military parade, North Korea's heir apparent Kim Jong Un appears to be missing the mark so far in winning over the populace.

Some 12,000 soldiers, tasked with building a new, lavish estate for the dictator-in-waiting, have been angering locals by raiding nearby farms for food, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Local farmers who complained were beaten up, according to the South Korea-based Research Institute for North Korean Society, cited by the Times.

It remains unclear whether news of the conflict has spread within North Korea's highly regimented society, where gauging public opinion is notoriously difficult.

But outside the country, Kim Jong Un is also taking hits from the entourage of his older half brother, Kim Jong Nam, who spends most of his time in China and Macau. He and his alleged "associates" have let loose with a tabloid-worthy stream of criticisms about Jong Un.

The family feud looks set to complicate a delicate power shift in the nuclear-armed, Stalinist state, just as the younger Kim tries to get his footing.

The latest accusations came from an anonymous "associate" of the elder brother in China, to South Korean broadcaster KBS. The associate claimed that the older brother met with his father at the Kim Jong Il's Beijing hotel room in August and complained about his little brother.

He claimed that Jong Un, believed to be about 27 years old, orchestrated the attack on the South Korean navy ship on March 26 that killed 46. Jong Nam told his father to rein in Jong Un's behavior, according to the KBS report.

A government official dismissed the latest report as unconfirmed rumor, KBS reported.

The associate also claimed that the younger Kim plotted to kill Jong Nam in China this past summer over his outspoken ways and said Jong Nam still has a power base in China and North Korea, the KBS report said.

That followed a South Korean official's claim that China forced the younger Kim to drop plans to attack his older brother, claims reported in Chosun Ilbo.

In an interview with Japan's Asahi TV that aired in Japan Monday, Jong Nam questioned the hereditary succession that put his younger brother in power.

But he had a few good words too, telling Asahi TV, "I hope that my younger brother Jong Un would do his best so that North Koreans could live a comfortable life," and "I'm always ready to support my brother overseas whenever he requests."

The elder half brother Jong Nam, 39, is something of a black sheep in the family. He is believed to have had a falling out with his father over his flamboyant, jet-setting ways, including an alleged attempt to enter Japan with a fake passport in 2001 to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

The stunt wasn't exactly in keeping with the austere, disciplined image the Kim dynasty wants to project.

Jong Nam is believed to have been born of a different mother -- a dancer who died in Moscow -- than his two younger brothers.

Jong Nam lives with his wife and two children in Beijing and Macau and reportedly receives an annual allowance -- variously pegged at $500,000 to $800,000 -- from Pyongyang, the Telegraph reported.

On Sunday, the younger Kim made his first public appearance at a military parade, standing in full military regalia beside his father. Two weeks prior, he was promoted to four-star general and got a top political post.

Korea-watchers said the promotions and appearance at the parade confirm that he's on track to succeed his father, 68, who is believed to be in poor health after a stroke in 2008.

Little is know about the younger Kim, except that he is thought to have attended a boarding school in Switzerland.

However, a German expert on "facial research" told Germany's Der Spiegel that there was a "high probability" that the young man in an official photo and a photo from his Swiss boarding school days are not the same person.

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