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As the Mystery Around Kim Jong Un’s Health Intensifies, So Do Questions About His Successor

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  • Kim Jong Un has been mysteriously absent from several key events since a rumored heart surgery that left him in “grave danger” earlier this month.
  • Now, Japanese and Hong Kong media have reported that the North Korean leader is in a “vegetative state” or “dead,” respectively.
  • South Korea has denied such claims, saying Kim is “alive and well.”
  • Still, Kim’s potential death has raised questions about who could succeed him, with one possibility being his sister even though North Korea is a highly patriarchal society.

North and South Korea Say Kim is “Alive and Well”

Conflicting reports of Kim Jong Un’s health have continued to swirl in recent days, with media outlets in several countries reporting that the North Korean leader is dead and government officials in other countries denying those claims. 

The latest development came Monday morning when a North Korean state-run newspaper issued a message reportedly from Kim to builders working on a tourism project in the country.

The letter would appear to show Kim alive and well; however, he has not been seen in over two weeks. In fact, Kim has missed more than one major event, including a missile test and North Korea’s biggest holiday on April 15. Notably, he has never missed that holiday—The Day of the Sun—since he took over the country after his father, Kim Jong-il, died in 2011. 

The crux of the rumors is that Kim faced complications following heart surgery days before that national holiday, with the story taking off internationally after CNN reported that he was in “grave danger.”

On Monday, South Korea took that hardline stance on Kim’s wellbeing, with the top foreign policy adviser to President Moon Jae-in telling CNN that Kim is “alive and well.”

This is not the first time South Korea has denied reports that Kim is ill. On Sunday the country’s unification minister called the rumors symptoms of an “infodemic” and said, “Our government has enough information-gathering capabilities to say confidently that there is nothing unusual.” 

According to The New York Times, “it is highly unusual for a senior South Korean official to publicly dispute news reports about what is happening inside North Korea’s secretive leadership. Normally, South Korean officials maintain a neither-confirm-nor-deny policy, at least on the record, for fear of disturbing sensitive relations between the two Koreas.” 

While United States officials have treated the reports seriously and said they’re closely monitoring intelligence on Kim’s health, President Donald Trump on Thursday said he doesn’t believe Kim is ill.

“We have a good relationship with North Korea, as good as you can have,” Trump said. “I mean, we have a good relationship with North Korea. I have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un, and I hope he’s okay. And somebody would say, ‘Oh, that’s terrible. No, it’s not terrible. I hope he’s okay, and I think it was a fake report done by CNN.

Japanese Media Says Kim Jong Un in “Vegetative State”

On Friday, the Japanese magazine Shukan Gendai reported that Kim is now in a “vegetative state” after undergoing emergency heart surgery, 

According to the outlet, earlier this month, Kim clutched his chest then fell to the ground while visiting the countryside. Reportedly, he needed a stent and while the country called in for Chinese medical experts, a North Korean surgeon operated on him following a delay.

The Chinese doctor who spoke to Shukan Gendai told them that the North Korean doctor was nervous and “shaking” because he had never operated on an obese person. 

A different report from a vice director for Hong Kong Satellite Television—a Beijing-backed broadcast network—claiming that Kim was now dead. That statement, made in a post on the popular social media platform, has now been widely shared. 

Alongside these reports last week, China dispatched a team with medical experts to North Korea, though according to Reuters, it’s not known what this trip means for Kim’s health. 

Who Would Succeed Kim?

One of the big reasons the rumors of Kim’s death have persisted is because of fears over what might happen to the country’s nuclear-arms program, especially since that arsenal has grown substantially under Kim Jong Un.

Because of concerns like that, many have wondered who would take over for Kim if reports on his death were true, and how would they rule?

But the answer is that no one really knows for sure. 

Part of that is because the country doesn’t appear to have a formal succession plan in place. Another part is that even though Kim is believed to have three children, the details around them are extremely guarded. 

In fact, it’s actually believed that Kim’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, could rule until his successor is old enough to take over. As Reuters reports, she’s been the most visible presence around Kim in the past two years.

She currently serves as the vice director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee and as Kim’s unofficial chief of staff.

Still, there are a lot of doubts that she’ll take over since North Korea is a highly patriarchal society. On top of that, no woman has ever run the country. 

That’s why others have speculated that Kim could be replaced by his uncle or his older brother, who was originally passed over when their father died.

If Kim Yo Jong was to replace Kim Jong Un for whatever reason, experts say at least for the first few months, North Korea would likely look inward. This is because she would very likely focus on consolidating her power and showing off her strength. Kim Jong Un demonstrated a similar tactic in 2011 following his ascension. 

According to Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department official who specialized in the Koreas, who spoke to Time Magazine,  “When North Korea reemerges, their goal would still be the same: to slowly get America to accept them as a nuclear power and lift international sanctions. And that means the same tensions between and Pyongyang and Washington would most likely remain.

Still, it’s incredibly important to remember here that these reports are unverified. Kim Jong Un has gone “missing” for weeks at a time in the past. Some believe he may just be staying behind closed doors because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (Time) (New York Post)

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Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse

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The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.


Priest Sparks Outrage

Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.

Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.

To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.

Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.

“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.

“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”

In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.

Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”

Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.

Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims

Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.

According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.

Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.

The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.

While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”

With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.

The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.

See what others are saying: (CBC News) (The Guardian) (CTV News)

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Tokyo Sets Back-to-Back Records for Number of Daily COVID-19 Cases

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Some positive cases were detected among people attending the Olympic Games, including a handful of athletes.


Cases Going Up

The Tokyo Olympic Games found itself in more controversy on Wednesday after Tokyo experienced a record number of daily COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row.

On Tuesday, the city recorded 2,848 new cases of the virus, passing the 2,500 daily new case threshold for the first time since the pandemic began. Then on Wednesday, it shattered the record again with 3,177 new COVID-19 cases.

At least 155 of those new cases were detected among people attending the Games, including a handful of athletes, which contrasts Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s promise that the Olympics wouldn’t be hit with the virus. The spike in new cases has largely been attributed to the delta-variant, something that many countries are dealing with around the world.

Nishimura Yasutoshi, a Japanese economic minister, told a parliamentary panel this week that COVID-19 cases are expected to continue rising for at least a few days. He also explained that many people may have delayed getting tested last week due to holidays, therefore inflating total daily new case numbers.

Governors in prefectures around Tokyo have moved to ask the government for states-of-emergency, which Tokyo is already under.

Doubts About Government Response

The prime minister said in a press conference on Tuesday that “the government has secured a new drug that reduces the risk of serious illness by 70 percent,” adding, “we have confirmed that this drug will be used thoroughly from now on.”

However, he never actually mentioned what drug he was referencing.

“In any case, under these circumstances, I would like to ask the people to avoid going out unnecessarily and to watch the Olympics and Paralympics on TV,” Suga continued.

He also stressed that canceling the Olympics amid the outbreak was completely out of the question, although there have been continued calls from the public and opposition lawmakers for just that.

Beyond refusing to cancel the Games, Suga is facing backlash for refusing to enact strict state-of-emergency protocols. Currently, the measures in Tokyo are almost all voluntary and consist of asking people to stay home, along with requesting restaurants that serve alcohol to completely close and telling all others to shut down by 8 p.m.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (NPR) (The Wall Street Journal)

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First Person Charged Under Hong Kong National Security Law Found Guilty of Terrorism and Inciting Secession

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Dozens more are awaiting trial for breaking the controversial National Security Law, which is aimed at protecting Chinese sovereignty at the cost of basic freedoms within Hong Kong.


First Conviction Under National Security Law

The first person to be charged under Hong Kong’s extremely controversial National Security Law was found guilty of his crimes Tuesday morning.

A judge ruled that Tong Ying-kit was guilty of both terrorism and inciting secession after the 24-year-old failed to stop at a police checkpoint while on his motorcycle last July, which resulted in him eventually riding into police. At the same time, he was carrying a flag that said “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times.”

According to Justice Esther Toh, that phrase alone was capable of inciting others to commit succession, she also that added that Tong understood that the flag had secessionist meaning in an effort to set aside doubts that Tong understood the flag’s inherent meaning.

Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director said,“The conviction of Tong Ying-kit is a significant and ominous moment for human rights in Hong Kong.”

“Today’s verdict underlines the sobering fact that expressing certain political opinions in the city is now officially a crime, potentially punishable by life in jail,” she added.

More Convictions Expected Sparking Fear Over Erosion of Rights

A long string of convictions will likely follow Tong’s, as over 100 people have been arrested under the ambiguous law that criminalizes many forms of freedom of expression under the guise of protecting Chinese sovereignty. Of those arrested, 60 are currently awaiting trial, including dozens of pro-democracy politicians who have been accused of subversiveness for their calls to block the government’s agenda in the legislature.

That has drawn particular concern among international critics who fear the precedent that will be set once it’s clear to politicians that failing to rubber-stamp the Communist Party’s agenda will result in prison terms.

It’s widely expected that as more people are found guilty, the few remaining protections of the city’s Basic Law, a British common law-inspired mini-constitution, will be completely eroded.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (BBC)

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