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Has N. Korea's mysterious successor made a blunder with binoculars?

All Headlines 17:10 February 21, 2011

SEOUL, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) -- Goof or genius?

Last week, North Korea's official television station aired footage of leader Kim Jong-il's past military inspections, during which his third son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un, was seen watching a tank drill while apparently holding a pair of binoculars upside down.

The scene, belatedly discovered by South Korean journalists on Monday, was considered a rare blunder by North Korea's official media that spares no austerity in praising the ruling dynasty.

It also contrasted with the intensifying cult of personality surrounding the 20-something man that the communist regime unveiled to the world as a four-star general in September last year.

According to Japanese media, North Korea in 2009 began handing out internal propaganda material that praised Kim Jong-un as a brilliant military genius with charm no one can ever resist.

The report was followed by South Korean ones that speculated that Kim Jong-un may have masterminded the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March and the bombardment of a South Korean island in November last year.

Many South Korean Internet users, however, appeared to be ready to disagree that Kim Jong-un could be so gifted as a military commander, as they looked at the footage of him holding binoculars.

"What a hilarious guy!" Woo Chang-wook said on Nate, referring to Kim. "You're making me laugh big-time!"

"The dark future of North Korea seems to be contained in those binoculars," Im Hyun-ju said on the same major portal site, calling Kim "dimwitted."

A brief bout of controversy even erupted on the Internet, with some users siding with Kim and saying that the binoculars were held rightly, an indication of the growing public scrutiny surrounding the young man anointed as successor to the nuclear-armed North.

Kim is the grandchild of North Korea's founder, Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994, handing his power to Kim Jong-il. Since apparently suffering a stroke in the summer of 2008, Kim Jong-il is believed to have sped up his hereditary succession plan. The fact that no modern country has ever pulled off a back-to-back father-to-son power succession did not stop him from pushing ahead with his ambition.

Since Kim Jong-il took over Pyongyang, North Korea has undergone one of the largest famines the region has witnessed, reportedly losing as many as 2 million people. Despite the economic woes, Kim went ahead with two nuclear tests and continues to invest a heavy amount of resources in building advanced weapons such as missiles.

Little is known about Kim Jong-un's character. He is believed to be Swiss-educated while his two older brothers have fallen out of their father's favor. North Korea's official media have been increasing the coverage of Kim Jong-un's public activities since he was revealed last year, giving him as much spotlight as his aging father in certain segments.

The footage that showed Kim Jong-un holding binoculars was aired on Feb. 16, the 69th birthday of Kim Jong-il.


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