North Korean Spring?

North Korea watchers believe Kim Jong-Il, 53-year-old son of the late strongman of the secretive Communist nation, has finally taken power, and that this is good news--at least for now. They say Kim's recent high-profile appearances at events marking the first anniversary of his father's death mean he is firmly in command. The latest thinking in South Korea is that the younger Kim will be relying on a constituency that has escaped international attention. This is the so-called "Three Revolutions" group of influential North Koreans in their mid-40s. They are so named because of their desire to make dramatic strides for their country--in technical knowhow, ideology, and culture.

Kim is expected to continue pushing a gradual economic opening, to help stave off severe hardships at home. South Korea and Japan are sending rice to help feed hungry North Koreans, the U.S.-brokered nuclear power deal appears to be on track, and direct North-South business deals are warming up.

But the South is still on guard. One fear is that resentful older generals could trigger military tensions with the South. The worst fear in Seoul is that Kim's opening, no matter how controlled, will set off popular demands for greater economic gains, sparking chaos.

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