As the Mystery Around Kim Jong Un’s Health Intensifies, So Do Questions About His Successor
- 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)
95-Year-Old Woman Dies After Police Tases Her in Nursing Home
The officer involved was suspended with pay and charged with assault.
A 95-year-old Australian woman whom police tasered in a nursing home last week has reportedly died from her injuries.
Clare Nowland, who had dementia and required a walking frame to stand up and move, was living at the Yallambee Lodge in Cooma in southeastern Australia.
At about 4:15 a.m. on May 17, police and paramedics responded to a report of a woman standing outside her room with a steak knife.
They encountered Nowland, then reportedly tried to negotiate with her for several minutes, but she didn’t drop the knife.
The five-foot-two, 95-pound woman walked toward the two officers “at a slow pace,” police said at a news conference, so one of them tasered her.
She fell to the floor and reportedly suffered a fractured skull and a severe brain bleed, causing her to be hospitalized in critical condition.
Nowland passed away in a hospital surrounded by her family, the New South Wales police confirmed in a statement today.
After a week-long investigation, the police force also said that the senior constable involved would appear in court next week to face charges of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and common assault.
NSW police procedure states that tasers should not be used against elderly or disabled people absent exceptional circumstances.
Following the incident, community members, activists, and disability rights advocates expressed bewilderment and anger at what they called an unnecessary use of force, and some are now questioning why law enforcement took so long to prosecute the officer involved.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The New York Times) (CNN)
U.K. Police Face Backlash After Arresting Anti-Monarchy Protesters
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that some of the arrests “raise questions” and “investigations are ongoing.”
The Public Order Act
A controversial protest crackdown law in the U.K. is facing criticism after dozens of anti-monarchy protesters were arrested during the coronation ceremony in London over the weekend.
The law, dubbed the “Public Order Act” was passed roughly a week ahead of the coronation for King Charles III. It gives police more power to restrict protesters and limits the tactics protesters can use in public spaces. It was condemned by human rights groups upon its passing, and is facing a new round of heat after 52 people were arrested over coronation protests on Saturday.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said protesters were arrested for public order offenses, breach of the peace and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. The group said it gave advance warning that its “tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise, will be low and that we would deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining the celebration.”
It is currently unclear how many of those arrested were detained specifically for violating the Public Order Act, however, some of those arrested believe the new law was used against them.
“Make no mistake. There is no longer a right to peaceful protest in the UK,” Graham Smith, the CEO of anti-monarchy group Republic tweeted after getting arrested. “I have been told many times the monarch is there to defend our freedoms. Now our freedoms are under attack in his name.”
An Attempt to “Diminish” Protests
During a BBC Radio interview, Smith also said he believes the dozens of arrests were premeditated.
“There was nothing that we did do that could possibly justify even being detained and arrested and held,” Smith claimed.
“The whole thing was a deliberate attempt to disrupt and diminish our protest.”
Yasmine Ahmed, the U.K. Director of Human Rights Watch, also tweeted that the arrests were “disgraceful.”
“These are scenes you’d expect to see in Russia not the UK,” she wrote.
When asked about the controversy, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters officers should do “what they think is best” in an apparent show of support for the Metropolitan Police.
For his part, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he is looking into the matter.
“Some of the arrests made by police as part of the Coronation event raise questions and whilst investigations are ongoing, I’ve sought urgent clarity from Met leaders on the action taken,” Khan tweeted.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Foreign Nationals Make Mad Dash out of Sudan as Conflict Rages
The conflict’s death toll has surpassed 420, with nearly 4,000 people wounded.
As the 10-day-long power struggle between rival generals tore Sudan apart, foreign governments with citizens in the country scrambled to evacuate them over the weekend.
On Sunday, U.S. special forces landed in the capital Khartoum and carried out nearly 100 American diplomats along with their families and some foreign nationals on helicopters.
An estimated 16,000 Americans, however, remain in the country and U.S. officials said in a statement that a broader evacuation mission would be too dangerous.
Christopher Maier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity warfare, said in a statement that the Pentagon may assist U.S. citizens find safe routes out of Sudan.
“[The Defense Department] is at present considering actions that may include use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to be able to observe routes and detect threats,” he said.
Germany and France also reportedly pulled around 700 people out of the country.
More countries followed with similar efforts, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, China, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Indonesia.
Yesterday, a convoy carrying some 700 United Nations, NGO, and embassy staff drove to Port Sudan, a popular extraction point now that the airport in Khartoum has closed due to fighting.
Reports of gunmen prowling the capital streets and robbing people trying to escape, as well as looters breaking into abandoned homes and shops, have persuaded most residents to stay indoors.
Heavy gunfire, airstrikes, and artillery shelling have terrorized the city despite several proposed ceasefires.
Over the weekend, the reported death toll topped 420, with nearly 4,000 people injured, though both numbers are likely to be undercounted.