Breaking news that North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Il has died at the age of 69.
Early word is that he died of a heart attack aboard one of his luxury trains while on a ‘tour’. South Korean forces and US forces in South Korea are on high alert. Given that in the past North Korea has dealt with crisis situations by launching missiles and staging attacks on South Korean territory that is not unreasonable.
At the same time after the death of Kim Il Sung there were some agreements reached in the five and six power talks. So it is possible that 2012 could be a better year for work with North Korea. This could well be a demonstration of the whole Juche theory and the Asian concept of face.
Information is sketchy at best and the official North Korea News Agency web site is not functioning.
In theory his successor would be his son Kim Jong Un but he is only in his late 20’s and it is unclear if sufficient time has passed for him to consolidate power. When Kim Jong succeeded his father he had been preparing for his leadership role for more than 20 years, while Kim Un has only been in the apprenticeship mode for a couple of years at most. At the same time early reports tonight say Kim Un has been named head of the funeral committee for his father.
The lack of a clear power base for Un could mean that military leaders might try to step in. Another option is that other members of the Kim family (who also have positions of power) could take control for a time in some sort of power sharing agreement. This is what happen when Kim Il-Sung died and his son Kim Jong Il was in a power sharing agreement for a time.
A prime candidate for power behind the throne would be Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Chang Sung-Task
Whatever happens I would expect the official word to be that Kim Jong-Un is in power but his actual control may be limited for a period of time. The powers that be in North Korea know that if they let the system collapse they will be out in the cold. In addition, the PRC has decided that it is in their best interests to keep North Korea going and so they would exert influence to stabalize things.
Another factor to consider is that Kim Jong-Il was ill for some time so we may well have some sort of power sharing structure already in place which will simply become official.
Wikipedia does have some pretty good resources on the power structure in North Korea.