S Koreans pose weighty question for North’s tubby heir

North Korea has released its first photo of heir-apparent Kim Jong-Un.

Updated: Oct 01, 2010, 13:04 PM IST

Seoul: Professors worldwide are pondering the political implications after North Korea released its first photo of heir-apparent Kim Jong-Un.

But South Korea`s Internet community had just one overriding question about the youngest son of leader Kim Jong-Il: how did he get so fat when his country is starving?

The North`s official media released its first ever picture of Jong-Un on Thursday, days after he was appointed a four-star general by his father and was given two powerful ruling party posts.

Analysts said the release of the image -- showing a distinctly chubby young man -- confirms Jong-Un`s status as eventual successor to his ailing 68-year-old father.

Internet posts were more personal.

"Pyongyang`s fat pig," wrote one user, a comment which could earn a death sentence north of the border.

"North Korean residents are all starving to death, but what did they eat to get so fat like that?" wrote another, referring to the Kim dynasty which has ruled the impoverished nation since its founding in 1948.

Founding father Kim Il-Sung was portly in later life. Current leader Kim sported a prominent pot belly until he lost weight dramatically following a stroke in 2008.

Jong-Un`s half-brother Kim Jong-Nam appears obese in photos taken during his pampered life in Macau.

Jong-Un "takes after his grandfather Kim Il-Sung but he is short and stout like his father", Yang Moo-Jin of Seoul`s University of North Korean Studies said on Thursday.

The photo attracted thousands of comments on Nate, South Korea`s major portal which aggregates news articles from other sites.

"He (Jong-Un) might have intentionally gained weight to look just like Kim Il-Sung. They look so exactly the same that it`s brainwashing," read one.

"Wow, they are huge! They should let one more fat son in and form a North Korean version of teletubbies," read another.

Another user commented scathingly: "What you (Jong-Un) eat daily could save hundreds of your people."

Weight-watching is not a problem which the ruling family shares with its people. The country suffered famine in the 1990s which killed hundreds of thousands and severe food shortages persist.

One out of three young children is stunted by malnutrition, the United Nations children`s fund has said.

Jong-Un, believed to be aged about 27, "probably eats much more than the average North Korean", said Cho Myung-Chul, a researcher at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy who defected from the North.

"North Koreans think being fat is good, unlike South Koreans who want to be skinny," Cho said.

"There is a high possibility Jong-Un intentionally gained weight to look like Kim Il-Sung."

On the political implications, Cho agreed with other analysts.

"Releasing a photo of Kim Jong-Un now means the succession plan has become public and legitimate in North Korea, and that the son will (eventually) rule."

Bureau Report