Kim granted official title on eve of feared missile test
Andrew Salmon in Seoul
Kim Jong-un was granted his official job title yesterday when a party congress named him first secretary of the North Korean Workers' Party, sealing his succession at the head of the nation's secretive regime.
However, the youthful leader was not granted the expected general secretary position, the state-run Korea Central News Agency reported. The job of 'eternal general secretary' remains the province of his late father, Kim Jong-il, who died of a suspected heart attack in December.
Another position the young Kim is unlikely to gain is 'eternal president', which remains with his late grandfather, Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994.
Though Kim Jong-un had previously been lauded as the 'supreme leader' of North Korea, his formal title was vice- chairman of the party's Central Military Commission.
Yesterday's endorsement came at a North Korean Workers' Party Congress, which was convened ahead of a satellite launch, expected between tomorrow and Sunday, which has been condemned by the international community as a cover for a missile test.
The launch comes as the nation of 23 million gears up for mass celebrations on Sunday, the 100th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il-sung.
More developments, including possible further promotions for Kim, are expected tomorrow, when the Supreme People's Assembly, the state's rubber-stamp parliament, convenes.
While promotion to first secretary appears to seal Kim Jong-un's position, a South Korean expert warned the speed of his ascent could signal issues inside the Pyongyang elite.
'In the case of his father, it took three years to become secretary general of the party,' Kim Tae-woo, president of Seoul's Korea Institute of National Unification, said. 'If he is elected secretary general, it means he is moving very, very quickly, which may signal his power position is not firm enough.'
Regardless of what title or titles Kim is granted, North Korea watchers will be awaiting the release of details in coming days to determine whether he wields real authority.
'If we see the entire party leadership is still people in their 70s and 80s, it may mean Kim is a puppet,' Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Kookmin University, said. 'If we see new faces, we will know he has some power.'
Meanwhile, South Korean officials earlier this week revealed satellite intelligence showing major excavations at North Korea's nuclear test site of Punggye-ri.
The move could be part of the strategy to be accepted as a de facto nuclear state, analysts said.
'Although the United States does not recognise Pakistan as a nuclear state, Pakistan has secured a number of concessions from the United States,' Baek Seung-joo, of Seoul's Korea Institute for Defence Analysis, said. 'North Korea wants a similar pass. It is widely assumed for a nation to be a nuclear power it needs to conduct three to four nuclear tests.'
North Korea has conducted two tests, in 2006 and 2009.