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Will 'sun' shine on N. Korea?

As the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il two weeks ago, the big question that no one has an answer to is simple:

What next?

It was apparent that his son, Kim Jong Un, was being positioned to succeed him as the ruler of the nation that has been befuddling to the rest of the world since 1940s. Over the Christmas weekend, North Koreans began referring to Kim Jong Un as the supreme leader of the nation's armed forces, which means he has the support of the top military leaders. Monday, a North Korean newspaper referred to him as the leader of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party.

Also on Monday, Kim Jong Un had his initiation into foreign affairs in an event that had already come with some controversy. A delegation from South Korea came to Pyongyang to pay their respects at Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where Kim Jong Il's body lies in state under guard.

The fact that the South Korean delegation did not include any senior government officials -- the most notable members of the group were a former first lady and a prominent businesswoman -- had irked many North Koreans as a snubbing. But it appears the Kim Jong Un handled the situation with diplomacy, thanking the contingent for their expressions of condolences.

While the goings-on in North Korea are usually hidden from view, indications are that Kim Jung Un is slowly collecting the mantles of power that his family has wielded for two generations while the nation awaits Kim Jong Il's funeral Wednesday and memorial Thursday.

The question is, what will happen once all those powers are fully consolidated?

For decades, North Korea has been an unstable burr in the side of the United States, engaging in warfare, firing off missiles, testing nuclear weapons and making statements that range from mean to belligerent. The result has been that it has sequestered itself from much of the rest of the world, a situation that benefits no one -- not the world, and certainly not the citizens of North Korea.

There has been speculation over what would become of North Korea when Kim Jong Il died, but the nation's opaqueness has made experts more guessers than anything else. Some think Kim Jong Un, untested and in his 20s, will fall to others who want to head up the government. Others have predicted that the regime would collapse in three years. Still others think the net effect will be business as usual for the hermit nation.

The ruling Kim family is referred to in North Korea as the "sun" of the nation, though the first two generations have been anything but. The sun shines warmth and makes growth possible. The policies that the Kims and their cohorts have inflicted on this nation of North Korea has created an environment that is dark and stagnant.

It may be that Kim Jong Un has the skills and disposition to truly be a beacon of sunlight on the nation he will lead. He will be in a position in which he can normalize North Korea's relationships with South Korea and the rest of the world, setting up a situation in which his country can be a thriving nation.

We can only hope that is what will happen and that this won't be another case of like father, like son.

-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board