Latest reports are adding weight to the view that North Korea’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island Tuesday, which is largely thought to have been premeditated, was connected to the regime’s power succession.
A South Korean government official reportedly said the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his heir Jong-un on Sunday had visited an artillery battalion that supervises the Gaemeori base from where the shells were fired.
“Accompanied by Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il visited the Gangnyeong artillery battalion Sunday,” the source said.
“There, Kim was briefed on the firepower of the North Korean coastal artillery and about the South Korean Marines’ past shooting exercises on Yeonpyeong Island.”
The North’s state media, which reports on Kim Jong-il’s public activities usually a day or two after they take place, did not report on the Kims’ visit to the frontline artillery battalion.
Instead, the Korean Central News Agency said Monday that Kim Jong-il and his son had made a trip Sunday to a fish farm and a duck farm in Yongyeon, South Hwanghae Province, about 80 kilometers from the Gaemeori base.
This photo released by North Korea’s state-run media Thursday shows Kim Jong-il and his son Jong-un (left) visiting a food factory in Pyongyang. (Yonhap News)
The Kims were accompanied by military brass including Kim Myong-guk, the director of the Korean People’s Army General Staff Department Operations Bureau; Hyon Chol-hae, director of the National Defense Commission’s Standing Bureau; and General Ri Myong-su, director of the National Defense Commission’s Administration Department.
That Kim went there with key members of the defense commission indicates that the visit may be related to the attack on Yeonpyeong Island.
According to a ruling party lawmaker, the South Korean military discovered that Kim Jong-il and his son met with Gen. Kim Kyok-sik, commander in charge of the West Sea area, before the artillery firing.
Rep. Won Yoo-chul of the Grand National Party, who chairs the parliamentary committee on national defense, said Thursday that a high-ranking military official told him that the two Kims met with Gen. Kim in the western coastal region.
Yongyon faces South Korea’s Baengnyeong Island, which is just 17 kilometers away from the North Korean shoreline.
“If Kim Jong-il and his son visited the artillery unit and were briefed on the South Korean naval exercises, they are likely to have given final approval on the bombardment two days later,” said Yu Ho-yeol, professor of North Korean studies at Korea University.
“The North must have propagandized the deadly artillery firing as Jong-un’s achievement to help him gain a stronger grip on the military and bolster its solidarity.”
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen also linked North Korea’s attack on Tuesday to the Kims’ power succession.
“It’s a worrisome leadership in North Korea. He (Kim Jong-il) is a very unpredictable guy, a very dangerous guy,” Mullen said in an interview with ABC News.
“(The attack) is also tied, we think, to the succession of this young 27-year-old who is going to take over at some point, and he continues to generate these kinds of events.”
Like U.S. President Barack Obama, Mullen called on China to stand firm against North Korea.
“The one country that has influence in Pyongyang is China and so their leadership is absolutely critical,” he said.
Mullen also warned of destabilization if North Korea continues to pursue a nuclear arsenal, referring to the North’s disclosure of an upgraded and strengthened uranium enrichment plant to western scientists.
“If he continues on that path, him with nuclear weapons or his son is a very dangerous outcome for the long term and it will continue to destabilize a really important part of the world,” he said.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com