Is Kim-Jong-Un dead? Is the North Korean dictator – Kim-Jong-un who did not blink an eye during his confrontational meeting with US President Donald Trump still alive?
Japanese media, citing the medical team treating North Korean leader Kim Jong-un claim that the North Korean leader could be in a vegetative state.
The Chinese delegation including a senior member of the Chinese Communist party’s international liaison department sent a team to North Korea including medical experts to check on Kim Jong-un, according to three people familiar with the situation. The trip by the Chinese doctors and officials comes amid conflicting reports about the health of the North Korean ruler.
What triggered the speculation behind Kim’s health was his non-appearance at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, a place he visits every year on April 15 to mark the birthday of his grandfather, the founder of the dynastic regime. No reporting by state media on the recent missile test launches featuring Kim Jong-un further fueled speculations.
These rumours gained traction when Daily NK, a South Korea-based online publication, and CNN, relying on anonymous sources inside the country, reported that the supreme leader’s health was in ‘grave danger’ following a heart surgery on April 12.
The speculations and rumours spread like wildfire throughout the globe. South Korea officials questioned the accuracy of the reports about Kim Jong-un being in ‘danger’ and Kang Min-Seok, a spokesman for President Moon Jae-in, said South Korea “has so far detected no special signs inside North Korea,” writes Choe Sang-Hun for the New York Times.
US national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said that the US was “closely monitoring” reports regarding Kim’s health. “They’re parsimonious with the information that they provide about many things, including the health of Kim Jong Un. So we’re monitoring those developments closely,” he told Fox & Friends on Tuesday.
US President Donald Trump also spoke about the reports and said the US did not know if the reports were accurate or not. “We don’t know, we don’t know,” Mr Trump said, before adding that he had a “very good relationship” with Kim Jong-un. “I can only say this, I wish him well.”
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, when asked about Kim’s health on Fox News after Trump spoke, said: “I don’t have anything I can share with you tonight, but the American people should know we’re watching the situation very keenly.”
North Korea also tried to quash the rumours. On Tuesday, its official news agency said Mr Kim had sent birthday gifts to exemplary workers and a birthday letter to the Cuban president on Monday. The state media last reported on Kim’s whereabouts when he presided over a meeting on 11 April.
The health of Kim Jong-un has always been of interest to western analysts but remains a closely guarded secret by the North Korea media. This is not the first time that the leader of the ‘hermit kingdom’ has disappeared.
In 2014, he was missing for more than a month. North Korean state TV later showed him walking with a limp. It neighbouring South Korean intelligence officials said that Kim had a cyst removed from his ankle and that his ankle trouble could return.
The Kim dynasty had ruled ‘democratic’ North since 1948 and over the years members of the family including Kim-II Sung and Kim Jong-il reportedly suffered from various ailments, like diabetes, and died of heart failure. The third-generation Kim is also a heavy smoker, suffers from obesity and cardiovascular diseases.
Regardless of the accuracy of the reports and Hong Kong Satellite Television claims that Kim-Jong-un is dead, a vital question must be raised. Who gets to rule North Korea if Mr Kim dies?
Political scientists and geopolitical analysts have pondered on this question ever since Kim Jong-un came into power. Most believe that Kim’s sister, Kim Jo Yong, would replacement for her brother.
Cheong Seong-chang, an at Sejong Institute in South Korea, spoke about Ms Kim Yong in an interview with Associated Press. He said that the possibility of the sister inheriting the throne is “more than 90%.” He also spoke about her ‘’royal blood’’ and he noted, and “North Korea is like a dynasty.’’
Ms Yong is very well known both inside and outside North Korea. She was part of the team and No.2 in command of the historic meeting between the USA and North Korea aimed at denuclearization. She has secured her position as the public face of North Korea, as her brother’s spokesman, chief of staff and national security adviser.
Much like her family, Ms Yong does not mince her words and she issued a statement attacking South Korea’s presidential office and calling it an “imbecile.”
But Lee Byong-Chol, a North Korea expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said the North’s deeply patriarchal elites would find it hard to accept a young, inexperienced female leader.
Apart from her sister, other possible replacements include Choe Ryong-Hae, the current No. 2 in the government hierarchy. Kim Jong Chol is also an option given his gender and his ‘’royal blood’’, but the younger Kim has no interest in politics or governance. Kim’s offsprings are out of the question at the moment given his young age and the secrecy around the gender of his kids.
The demise of Kim-Jong-un could see a power struggle in the country. As history has shown, a change in leadership is often followed by flexing military muscles via testing of nukes, purges of top generals or potential enemies and an all-out effort to consolidate power.
With North Korea armed to its teeth and now nuclear-capable, a change in leadership could prove to be catastrophic for the Korean Peninsula. We could possibly see another war between the two Koreas, refugees flocking to bordering China and misuse of weapons of mass destruction.
It will be interesting to see how the world reacts, especially the US, who has invested a lot of time and effort under the Trump administration to end North Korean nuclear weapon proliferation and lift economic sanctions in return.
“They’ve got to denuclearize. We’ve got to do so in a way that we can verify that’s true no matter who is leading North Korea,” Mike Pompeo said recently. For America, denuclearization remains the central theme regardless of who runs North Korea.
Armaan Srivastava, New Delhi