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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)

International

American Influencer Kristen Gray To Be Deported From Bali

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  • In a viral Twitter thread, influencer Kristen Gray encouraged people to move to Bali like she did while promoting her eBook and other resources on how to do so amid COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Many criticized her for encouraging an influx of travelers during the pandemic. She also sparked conversations about gentrification and was slammed for falsely characterizing Indonesia as queer-friendly.
  • The local government promised to deport her Tuesday, arguing that selling her book and offering paid consultations on traveling to Bali violated the purpose of her visitor stay permit. They also say she was “spreading information that could unsettle the public.”
  • “I am not guilty. I have not overstayed my visa. I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah in Indonesia,” Gray told reporters. “I put out a statement about LGBT and I am being deported because of LGBT.”

Kristen Gray Goes Viral

Officials in Indonesia said Tuesday that they will deport Kristen Gray, an American influencer who has caused international outrage in the last week.

Gray moved to Bali with her girlfriend in 2019 with plans to stay for six months. In reality, the couple ended up staying much longer because of the coronavirus pandemic, and in a viral Twitter thread, Gray shared how positive their experience has been.

Gray pointed to several benefits of moving to Bali in her posts, like its safety, low cost of living, luxury lifestyle, as well as its queer-friendly and Black communities.

She also encouraged others to make the same move and promoted their $30 eBook “Our Bali Life Is Yours” for tips on how to do it. “We include direct links to our visa agents and how to go about getting to Indonesia during COVID,” she even wrote in one post.

Backlash

The thread sparked outrage for encouraging an influx of travelers to a country that has closed its borders over the worsening pandemic. On top of that, it sparked conversations about the gentrification of neighborhoods there.

Bali is a major tourist destination for Americans, Europeans, and Australians in particular, and like areas all over the world, it has suffered from the loss in visitors this year.

However, many online noted that locals have been steadily priced out of certain areas of the island as foreigners open businesses to cater to tourists. Others argue that poorly regulated development is also destroying industries that Balinese people have historically relied on.

Aside from those criticisms, many people also took issue with Gray characterizing Bali as a queer-friendly when the reality for locals is far different.

“It well may be the case for you. However, please recognize that it is because a) you’re a foreigner and b) you have economic leverage since the Indonesian local community is financially dependent on keeping you happy so they don’t mess with you,” a user named Kai Mata said in a viral TikTok.

“Please realize for the rest of us Indonesians on the island, this is not a queer-friendly place. Our gay communities are often shut down and raided by authorities and Indonesia at large has tried to mandate conversion therapy for us the LGBTQ+ Community.

Government Responds

The local government responded to the public outrage over Gray’s thread Tuesday. In a statement, it said selling her book and also offering paid consultations on traveling to Bali violated the purpose of her visitor stay permit, which was valid until January 24.

Gray was also accused of “spreading information that could unsettle the public” by saying Bali is queer-friendly and suggesting foreigners travel there during the pandemic.

According to Reuters, she was being held at an immigration detention facility Tuesday and was to be deported as soon as a flight was available.

In a brief statement to the Balinese press, Gray defended herself. “I am not guilty. I have not overstayed my visa. I have not made money in Indonesian rupiah in Indonesia. I put out a statement about LGBT and I am being deported because of LGBT,” she explained.

Many of her fans believe her and also argue that she is seeing this level of criticism because she is a Black woman.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Reuters) (Vulture)

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International

Petition Calls for Ban on Sexualized Fanfiction in South Korea

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  • A petition circulating across South Korea calls for sexualized fanfiction depicting K-pop stars and other real people to be outlawed and classified as sex crimes.
  • The petition particularly focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and argues that they often feature people who are minors.
  • A similar petition was submitted last week to President Moon Jae-in; however, it focused on deep fakes. Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon.

K-Pop Fanfiction Causes Chaos

A petition began circulating across South Korea this week demanding that “real person slash” fanfiction works be outlawed and charged as sex crimes.

“Real person slash” refers to a specific form of fanfiction that most often features sexualized versions of K-pop stars and other real people.

In particular, the petition focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and the age of some of the people being portrayed. The petition notes, “due to the nature of the profession of idols, whose average age is young, many of the victims are still minors or children.”

The petition was submitted to the Blue House, South Korea’s version of the White House, and currently has over 200,000 signatures. It received a big boost in attention after K-pop star Nancy, from the group Momoland, was secretly filmed by a member of her agency while she was changing backstage. This person then doctored some of the images and uploaded them online.

While Nancy’s case isn’t hand-drawn fanfic, it did fuel outrage at what’s seen as an ineffective approach towards sex crimes in the country. Signers of this petition believe that these fanfics fall into the same category of likely illegality as deep fakes.

Deep Fakes Also Being Targeted

Additionally, just last week deep fakes – which often feature k-pop stars – had its own petition submitted to the president last week with over 300,000 signatures.

Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon Jae-in

For years South Korea has struggled with secret cameras, deep fakes, revenge porn, and more violent sex crimes, such as the infamous Nth Room case that saw certain stars filming themselves having sex with women against their consent.

See What Others Are Saying: (CNA) (The Korea Herald) (South China Morning Post)

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Italy Begins Largest Mob Trial in Decades

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  • Italian prosecutors have started their trial against more than 320 defendants linked to the  ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.
  • The charges range from murder and drug trafficking to extortion and money laundering.
  • The case is so large, high-profile, and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.
  • Details uncovered could deliver a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealings in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

Hundreds of ‘Ndranghetisti Facing Charges

A major mob trial kicked off in Italy Wednesday involving more than 320 defendants who are part of or associated with the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.

In addition to these defendants going on trial, 90 others have elected for a fast-tracked trial elsewhere in Calabria.

While this is a massive affair, it’s still not the country’s largest mob-related trial in history. That happened in the ’80s against the Cosa Nostra from Sicily.

The trial is so high-profile and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, close to the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.

The court is looking at many charges against the defendants, including extortion, drug and arms trafficking, money laundering, and Mafia association – a term used in Italy’s penal code for members of organized crime.

Breaking Into the Family

Investigators hope that the trial will show just how entrenched organized crime is in the territory, as it’s believed that the ‘Ndrangheta has dealings with local politicians and businessmen. These dealings are believed to not only stem from their illicit activities but also from their legitimate businesses that were initially funded via crime-related funds. Either way, the trial is seen as a major blow for the group.

The organization is made up of multiple groups of tight-knight families that are all interconnected. For years investigators have tried to get more information on the group but following the arrest and prosecution of Luigi Mancuso, a boss in the ‘Ndrangheta, investigators finally had a way to look more closely at 12 families who make up part of the ‘Ndrangheta.

During their investigation police and prosecutors managed to turn some members of those families and use them as informants. They are expected to take the stand as witnesses during the trial. In total, prosecutors hope to put bring out over 900 witnesses.

If successful, this could be a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealing in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

See What Others Are Saying: (ABC News) (LA Times) (Chicago Tribune)

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