December 29th, 2011
04:21 PM GMT
Hong Kong (CNN) – The official mourning period for Kim Jong Il is over and the world's eyes - and in many cases fears - are now focused on Kim Jong Un.
We still don't know with any certainly how old he is, let alone whether he is capable of running a country.
At first, he will have plenty of help from his father's trusted circle of advisers. But analysts say one of the reasons he was chosen over his two brothers to succeed Kim Jong Il is that he most closely resembles his grand-father, Kim Il Sung, founder of the Communist north. If that is the case, it is unlikely to be long before he begins to flex his muscles, political or otherwise.
Kim Jong Un (above center, in a handout picture from North Korea's Korean Central News Agency) faces a clear - and intriguing - choice.
Does he follow the path of his father and grandfather and keep his country in isolation and his people cowed? This would mean he would remain beholden to China for his very survival while being shunned by most of the rest of the world.
Or does he look at his very own neighborhood and learn from two of the most economically successful models in the world: South Korea and China?
When Kim Il Sung founded Communist North Korea in 1948, the country had a bigger industrial base than the South and many more riches in the ground.
Over the ensuing 63 years Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il ran the country into the ground.
The economy has shriveled, as both South Korea and China have blossomed. From a rocky and authoritarian beginning, South Korea embraced the free markets with its own style of capitalism - significantly, heavy state support for key industries - and has become a democratic Asian tiger with an industrial-based economy.
According to the CIA’s The World Factbook, South Korea’s economy is likely to have topped $1 trillion last year.
I use the CIA’s figures because they have also estimated the size of the North Korean economy - there are no official North Korean statistics - at about $28 billion. That makes South Korea's economy nearly 36 times bigger.
The contrast with China is even more extraordinary. In a little more than 30 years China has moved from near economic irrelevance to economic superpower. Money talks, and these days when China talks the world takes note.
Even that other international pariah nation, Myanmar, has shifted its policy. Enough, at least, for the U.S. president Barack Obama to send his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to see what's going on.
Kim Jong Un has reportedly been educated in Switzerland. He will have seen the sweeping changes in the global economy and the global order. He will be aware of the role that economics play in staying in power. He need look no further than China, where the Communist Party maintains its legitimacy by providing prosperity.
It won't happen overnight. Perhaps not even in years. North Korea watchers say he is unlikely to change his father's military-first policy anytime soon, despite its crushing impact on the people of North Korea. But if he does look beyond the immediate, he will see a North Korean model of rule that is unsustainable and an economy in decay.
Call it enlightened self-interest but it may be that the younger Kim will have to turn his attention to economics 101, purely for the sake of his own self-preservation.
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