SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea told its diplomatic missions that Kim Jong Il's youngest son — who reportedly enjoys skiing and studied English, German and French at a Swiss school — will be the nation's next leader, a South Korean lawmaker and newspapers said Tuesday.
The secretive communist state sent the message about the 26-year-old son, Jong Un, after the nation's May 25 nuclear test, which along with a series of missile tests has greatly raised tensions in the region, the Hankook Ilbo reported.
The paper cited unnamed members of South Korea's parliamentary intelligence committee briefed by the spy agency.
Opposition lawmaker Park Jie-won, an intelligence committee member, said during a radio interview Tuesday that he was briefed by the government on the North's move and the regime is "pledging allegiance to Kim Jong Un," according to an interview transcript provided by his office.
Another mass-market paper, Dong-a Ilbo, carried a similar report, saying the North is teaching its people a song lauding the son. The paper cited unidentified sources.
The spy agency, National Intelligence Service, said it cannot confirm the reports.
The possible transfer of power comes at a tense time as the North escalates tensions in the region by testing the nuclear device and several short-range missiles. Media reports say the North appears to be preparing a test launch of a long-range missile.
The saber-rattling is believed to be part of the North's succession campaign, the papers said.
Most analysts have long believed Kim's youngest son has the best chance of succeeding the authoritarian leader. But little is known about Jong Un, the youngest of three sons Kim Jong Il is known to have fathered.
He studied at the International School of Berne in Switzerland until 1998 under the pseudonym Pak Chol, learning to speak English, German and French, the Swiss weekly news magazine L'Hebdo reported earlier this year, citing classmates and school officials.
A classmate recalled him as timid and introverted but an avid skier and basketball player who was a big fan of the NBA star Michael Jordan. He was humble and friendly with the children of American diplomats, a former school director said. A car arrived every day after school to pick him up, the report said.
A Japanese man who claims to know Jong Un from his years as Kim Jong Il's sushi chef says the son looks and acts just like his father and is the leader's favorite. In contrast, Kim often derided the middle son, Jong Chul, as "girlish," the chef, Kenji Fujimoto, said in a 2003 memoir.
Who will eventually rule the nuclear-armed North has been the focus of intense media speculation since leader Kim, 67, reportedly suffered a stroke last summer. That sparked regional concerns about instability and a possible power struggle if he died without naming a successor.
Kim's eldest son, Jong Nam, 38, had long been considered the favorite to succeed his father — until he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001. He reportedly told Japanese officials he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
Kim considers the middle son, Jong Chol, too effeminate for the job, according to the sushi chef's 2003 memoir.
Kim succeeded his father, who died in 1994, in communism's first hereditary power succession. He rules the country with absolute authority and has allowed no opposition.