25 April 2020   Leave a comment

North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, missed another important celebration–the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean military. His absence has spawned a number of reports, none of which can be verified. Some assert that he is dead. Others assert that he is in a vegetative state after a botched heart surgery. There is no way to verify any of these reports and we will have to wait until the government makes an official announcement or Kim appears in public. But the uncertainties have spawned speculation on his possible successor, with some asserting that his sister, Kim Yo-jong, could take Kim’s place. Jieun Baek, writing in The National Interest, outlines some of the possibilities:

“Kim Yo-jong has been being groomed to be a senior political figure, but may lack the necessary preparations to be presented as the first female head of state. If she were to succeed Kim Jong-un as the fourth leader of North Korea, she may face strong hesitation and skepticism from the political male elders who embody a patriarchal system. For North Korea watchers, it may be worth considering the possibility that Kim Pyong-il (Kim Jong-il’s paternal half-brother) may be asked to be a political guardian of Kim Yo-jong, or be the successor himself. Kim Pyong-il, who has been serving as a diplomat abroad for forty years and recently returned to Pyongyang, is within the Baektu Bloodline and may be invited into the inner circle to support Kim Yo-jong to maintain the regime within the Kim Dynasty. He could be part of a larger ‘collective leadership’ that supports and guides Kim Yo-jong as the head of state. If she is not prepared to be immediately presented to the public amidst a sudden death of Kim Jong-un, there may be a transitional period during which a collective leadership reigns. 

“While possible, it is difficult to imagine that a collective leadership will take over the state in the long run in the absence of a successor who is from the Kim Family. This is because the political legitimacy of the state is derived from the mythical narrative that North Korea’s founding father Kim Il-sung is essentially a god, and his successors will continue to lead the Socialist revolution and protect the nation. North Korea without a successor from the Kim family is like worshippers going to church without a deity to worship.” 

This is not the first time Kim has disappeared from public events: “Kim, believed to be 36, has disappeared from coverage in North Korean state media before. In 2014 he vanished for more than a month and North Korean state TV later showed him walking with a limp. Speculation about his health has been fanned by his heavy smoking, apparent weight gain since taking power and family history of cardiovascular problems.” US President Trump, who has invested a great deal of personal diplomacy with Kim, said yesterday that he believed the reports were incorrect. Reuters reports:

“U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday threw more cold water on reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was gravely ill, but declined to say if he had been in touch with officials there.

“’I think the report was incorrect,’ Trump said at a daily White House briefing, adding that he had heard it was based on ‘old documents.’

“Trump had said on Tuesday that he might contact North Korean officials to inquire about Kim but gave no indication on Thursday he had done so. The two leaders have had regular communications over the past couple of years.

“’We have a good relationship with North Korea, I have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un and I hope he’s okay,’ Trump said.

We shall simply have to wait to see what has actually happened. But if there is a new leader in North Korea, it will be difficult for the US to re-establish the dialog about nuclear weapons until the new leader is firmly in power. There are real dangers to personal diplomacy.

Posted April 26, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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