- On Monday night, the South Korean newspaper The Daily NK reported that North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un has been absent from major national events after undergoing heart surgery on April 12.
- Later, both CNN and Bloomberg news cited United States government officials who said that Kim is in “grave danger” and had taken “a turn for the worse,” respectively.
- South Korean and Chinese officials have been doubtful about such reports, saying that they have not seen anything out of the ordinary from North Korea.
- Still, U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the White House is following these reports “very closely.”
Kim Reported To Be in Poor Condition
The White House says it’s looking “very closely” into reports that North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un is in critical condition following an alleged heart surgery, but South Korea says it doesn’t believe those reports are true.
“We’re monitoring these reports very closely, and as you know North Korea is a very closed society,” National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said on Fox and Friends Tuesday morning. “There is not a free press there, they are parsimonious with the information they provide on many things, including the health of Kim Jong Un, so we’re monitoring those developments closely.”
Currently, nothing is truly known about Kim’s condition. The speculation around his status began Monday night when the South Korean newspaper The Daily NK reported that Kim Jong Un underwent heart surgery on April 12th.
When it was first published, that article said multiple sources from inside North Korea had told the outlet that Kim had received that surgery. The paper’s sources went on to say that Kim has been suffering from inflammation of blood vessels involving the heart since last August and that the surgery was likely due to a number of factors, including obesity, smoking habits, and overwork.
Later, The Daily NK later issued a correction saying that this article was based on a single source, but still, the questions around Kim’s health persisted.
That’s for a few reasons. First, on April 12, the same day as his reported surgery, North Korean state media reported that Kim had visited an airbase and observed drills by fighter planes. Notably, that’s nothing out of the ordinary for the dictator.
On April 14, however, state media did not mention Kim as having attended a weapons test, even though he normally supervises those events. Then, the next day on April 15, North Korea observed its most important national holiday: The Day of the Sun.
That holiday, which is comparable in scale to Christmas in the United States, commemorates the birthday of Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, who founded North Korea.
Again, state media did not mention whether Kim had attended that ceremony. It also didn’t publish any pictures of him there, even though it did publish photos of other top leaders.
All of that is extremely odd because Kim has never missed that event before.
More Media Outlets Pick Up the Story
After The Daily NK, more news outlets picked up the story Monday night, including CNN, which reported that the United States was monitoring intelligence that Kim is now in “grave danger” following his surgery.
Notably, that’s according to a U.S. official “with direct knowledge.”
CNN also said that a second source familiar with the intelligence told them the U.S. has been closely monitoring reports on Kim’s health. According to a third source, concerns about Kim’s health are “credible but the severity is hard to assess.”
In addition to that, Bloomberg News reported that a U.S. official said Kim had taken a turn for the worse after his surgery.
Later in the night, MSNBC anchor Katy Tur tweeted, “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is brain dead, according to two US officials. He recently had cardiac surgery and slipped into a coma, according to one US current and one former US official.
If true, Tur had just tweeted massive news that raised multiple questions about the reclusive country’s relationship with other nations, as well as questions about who would succeed Kim.
It turns out, however, that Tur’s claim may not be as confirmed as she originally thought.
“I’ve deleted that last tweet out of an abundance of caution,” she later tweeted. “Waiting on more info. Apologies.”
South Korea and China Doubtful of Reports of Kim
South Korean officials have also said that they’ve seen nothing that indicated Kim was in poor condition.
“No unusual signs have been identified inside North Korea,” presidential spokesman Kang Min-seok told the Yonhap News Agency. There is nothing we can confirm with regard to Chairman Kim’s alleged health problem.”
Another anonymous government official told Yonhap, “There is nothing unusual going on in North Korea. It’s not true.”
That official also said that Kim appears to be acting “normally.”
Reuters has also reported that South Korean and Chinese officials are doubtful of reports that Kim is in critical condition.
Speaking to BuzzFeed News, North Korea expert Andray Abrahamian from George Mason University in South Korea said, “The Daily NK report that started this is underground, single source reporting from within the most opaque country in the world. That isn’t useless but also faces limitations.”
“Then CNN went with a dramatic headline and anonymous sourcing from the United States that was also very vague but made it seem as if there was more credible information than there probably is,” Abrahamian added. “Then the world’s media is compelled to write something lest they be missing out on a major story.”
If, in fact, something is wrong with Kim and he ultimately ends up dying, it’s very likely that information wouldn’t be known until North Korea decides to tell the world. When his father Kim Jong-il died in 2011, even South Korea didn’t know about it until days later when the North Korean state media announced it.
India Pedestrian Bridge Collapsed 4 Days After Renovations, Killing Over 100 People
The company responsible for the upkeep of the Morbi bridge did not obtain a safety certificate before re-opening.
After seven months of renovations, the Morbi walking bridge in India opened to the public. Four days later, the bridge collapsed, killing more than 130 people.
According to the local government, there were about 200 people on the bridge when it collapsed on Sunday, despite its capacity of 125.
During a campaign event on Monday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the state government had set up a committee to investigate the tragedy.
“I assure the people of the country that there will be nothing lacking in the relief and rescue efforts,” he stated.
Along with the investigation, the state has launched a criminal complaint against Oreva Group, the company responsible for maintaining the bridge. Oreva Group reopened the bridge after renovations without getting a safety certificate from the government.
In response, Oreva Group spoke to a local news outlet and blamed those on the bridge for its collapse.
“While we are waiting for more information, prima facie, the bridge collapsed as too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other,” the group claimed.
The state government has offered compensation for the families of the deceased, but that is not enough for some. One father whose wife and two children died in the collapse told VICE he wants answers and accountability.
“Why were so many people given tickets? Who allowed them? Who is answerable?” he asked.
Indian police have arrested nine people including ticketing clerks and security guards for failing to regulate the crowd, according to Reuters.
Xi Jinping Tightens Grip on China by Eliminating Rivals
Despite the staggering power grab, Xi faces geopolitical competition from abroad as well as social and economic instability at home.
Xi Surrounds Himself With Allies
Chinese President Xi Jinping shook up politics over the weekend when he revealed the government’s new leadership, almost exclusively composed of his own hardline loyalists.
Six men — Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi — will form the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top ruling body.
The four new members are all Xi loyalists, pushing out Premier Li Keqiang and the head of China’s top advisory body Wang Yang, two key party figures outside Xi’s inner circle who retired despite being eligible to serve another term.
For the first time in a quarter-century, China’s 24-member Politburo will be made up entirely of men, underlining the exclusion of women from Chinese politics.
An official account of the selection process said that a top criterion for leadership was loyalty to Xi, and rising officials must stay in lockstep with him “in thinking, politics and action.”
Topping off the developments, Xi officially secured an unprecedented third term as leader, something that was only made possible in 2018 when the government abolished term limits on the presidency. The weekend marked China’s greatest consolidation of political power in a single figure in decades.
As the 20th Communist Party Congress came to a close Saturday, China’s former leader Hu Jintao appeared reluctant as he was suddenly and inexplicably escorted from his seat next to Xi out of the Great Hall of the People.
Some commentators have argued that a tightly knit band of yes men may help Xi fend off internal party dissent, but it could ultimately result in poor governance as his subordinates fear giving him bad news.
The Arc of History Bends Toward China
Despite the extreme concentration of political power, China’s Communist Party stares down a gauntlet of challenges both foreign and domestic.
Beijing remains locked in a strategic competition with Washington, which has sought to contain the East Asian rival’s rise as a global superpower, but the past week’s congress may portend a stubbornly defiant China for years to come.
Xi is expected to use his firmly secure position within the party to pursue his agenda in full force — by strengthening Beijing’s claim over Taiwan, expanding China’s economic foothold in developing countries, and achieving self-sufficiency in strategic technologies such as semiconductors.
At home, China’s economy has faltered during the pandemic, with high unemployment, low consumption, and slow economic growth putting pressure on a government that stakes much of its legitimacy on promises to deliver prosperity to the population. Between July and September, the country’s GDP grew by 3.9%, according to official data released Monday, which is above many analysts’ expectations but still far below the state’s target of around 5.5%.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics postponed the data’s publication last week ahead of the 20th party congress, reinforcing concerns that Xi’s leadership will put politics before economics.
Monday’s announcement roiled stock markets, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index plunging 6%, as well as the Shanghai Composite and the Shenzhen Composite Index both falling by about 2%.
Beijing has also seen increased political resistance from the population, from anti-lockdown protests in Shanghai to widespread mortgage boycotts over delays from real estate developers.
Last week, a man unfurled two large banners from an overpass in Beijing and called President Xi a “dictator” through a megaphone.
Such small-scale demonstrations are not new, but they took place in the capital just before the congress drew enough attention for photos of the stunt to go viral on social media, where an equally swift censorship campaign stamped out any mention of it.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Elon Musk Walks Back Threat to Cut Ukraine’s Starlink Internet Service
Although the satellites have been invaluable for Ukrainian military operations, outages have left soldiers without communication devices in recent weeks.
Let Them Eat Satellites
SpaceX founder Elon Musk said on Saturday that his company would continue funding internet service for Ukraine after declaring that he would have no choice but to cut it off the day prior.
“The hell with it,” he tweeted. “Even though Starlink is still losing money & other companies are getting billions of taxpayer $, we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the often jocular billionaire was being sarcastic, but in response to another Twitter user he said, “We should still do good deeds.”
SpaceX’s Starlink satellites help the Ukrainian military operate drones, receive intelligence updates and communicate out in the field, which is vital since many regular internet and cellular phone networks have been destroyed by Russia.
At least 20,000 satellite terminals have been donated to Ukraine since the spring, but SpaceX has footed the bill for a small minority of them. According to a letter the company sent to the Pentagon last month, around 85% of the terminals were paid for in part or in full by the United States, Poland, and other entities, who also covered some 30% of the internet connectivity.
SpaceX claimed in the letter that Starlink services for Ukraine would cost over $120 million for the rest of the year and nearly $400 million for the next 12 months.
“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” it said.
The company, therefore, requested that the Pentagon take over funding for the satellite terminals.
Earlier this month, Musk claimed on Twitter that Ukraine’s Starlink services had cost SpaceX $80 million so far.
On Friday, following CNN’s publication of the SpaceX letter, Musk reaffirmed that his company “cannot fund the existing system indefinitely, *and* send several thousand more terminals that have data usage up to 100X greater than typical households.”
He added, however, that it was not seeking to recoup past expenses.
On Monday, Politico reported that the Pentagon is considering paying for the Starlink satellite network from a fund that has been used to supply weapons and equipment over the long term, according to two U.S. officials who are involved in the deliberations.
Starlink Leaves Ukraine’s Soldiers Stranded
Ukrainian troops experienced “catastrophic” outages in their Starlink communication devices in recent weeks, according to a Financial Times report earlier this month.
The services reportedly stopped functioning at critical moments, such as when soldiers breached the front lines into Russian-controlled territory or engaged in pitched battles.
“They were acute in the south around the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, but also occurred along the frontline in eastern Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk,” an official told the outlet.
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to annex all four regions and held referendums widely considered to be a sham justification for his conquest of the Donbas.
The regions are also the focus of a massive Ukrainian counteroffensive that has sent Russian troops scrambling in recent weeks.
One Starlink donor reportedly believed the outages were a result of SpaceX’s efforts to block Russian forces from misusing Starlink terminals.
As Ukrainian soldiers liberated Russian-occupied territory, the sources said, public announcements of their gains lagged behind, and so did Starlink’s coverage.
Another official told the outlet that connection failures were widespread and led to panicked calls from soldiers to helplines.
Musk responded to the report by tweeting, “As for what’s happening on the battlefield, that’s classified.”