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Is Kim Jong Un behind the assault?

All the usual caveats on North Korean regime speculation apply, but some analysts seem to be suggesting that North Korea artillery assault on a South Korean island this morning may have been ordered by heir apparent Kim Jong Un or at least related to his succession. The Sydney Morning Herald writes:

NORTH KOREA has burnished the leadership credentials of its 26-year-old dictator-in-waiting with a deadly artillery attack on South Korean territory, causing its neighbour to return fire and scramble F-16 fighters.

Two South Korean marines died, and at least 12 were wounded. There were reports of civilian injuries and houses were set ablaze as scores of shells fell on Yeonpyeong island.

A North Korea expert at Beijing's Central Party School, Zhang Liangui, told the Herald that Kim Jong-un was deliberately destabilising the environment in order to mobilise the military and consolidate his power. [...]

Chinese North Korea specialists believe the brinkmanship is designed to mobilise the country around the anointed successor of Kim Jong-il, his son Kim Jong-un.

Time's Bill Powell adds:

Analysts in Seoul said the thread plausibly linking the nuclear revelations and Tuesday's attack in the West Sea is the leadership succession now under way in Pyongyang. Both underscore what has been a central political component of the Kim Jong Il regime, the doctrine of "military first" politics. In Kim's words, it means "placing top priority on military affairs" and turning the North Korean army into a "pillar of the revolution." Just six weeks ago, the regime in Pyongyang effectively affirmed that Kim's son Kim Jong Un would succeed his father as the next ruler of North Korea. That the North continues to upgrade its ability to make nuclear weapons — the regime already has between 8 and 12 bombs, according to U.S. intelligence — while lashing out militarily during a high-profile visit to the neighborhood by Obama's special envoy shows one thing: when young Kim takes over, nothing much in the North will change.

"Kim Jong Un," says Cheong Seong-Chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, a Seoul think tank, "is currently under the influence of more hawkish generals. The son's power base is derived from the military, and the power of military is greater than ever."

This is all speculative but it doesn't seem outside the realm of possibility given Kim Jong Un's role on the Party's Central Military Committee. Combined with last year's disastrous currency revaluation, which he was also reportedly involved in, we're starting to get a pretty bleak picture of North Korea's future under the Kim family's third generation. 

PARK JI-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images

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