Kim Jong-un death rumors expose tensions in north eastern Asia

South Korea, China, and the U.S. must be prepared for a possible collapse of authority in a nuclear-armed state without any known plan for succession of power

Kim Jong-un death rumors expose tensions in north eastern Asia
North Korean leader Kim Jong - Photo: Wong Maye-E/AP
English 01/05/2020 15:27 Gabriel Moyssen Mexico City Actualizada 16:04
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At the very moment that the Far East region begins to emerge from the crisis unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic, rumors around the death of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un have exposed the tensions involving China, the United States, and South Korea.

While the Pyongyang government has denied the rumors, also rejected by Seoul, Beijing, and Washington, few media outlets, international analysts, and so-called “North Korea watchers” noticed that the source of Kim’s death was the Daily NK website, based on a single anonymous informant allegedly from the reclusive communist country.

However, Daily NK, which itself has published a correction saying that Kim might have had a heart problem yet is recovering well, is run in Seoul by northern defectors funded by the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (NED), considered a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) offshoot implicated in promoting “regime change” operations from Venezuela to Iran.

Between 2016 and 2019, Daily NK received a total of USD $1,120,000, as part of a NED project to “provide journalism training to North Koreans working as citizen journalists as well as ongoing professional development for its regionally-based correspondents and stringer reporters,” explained Moon of Alabama.

The independent website pointed out that in the regional context, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in “is not well liked” by U.S. foreign relations hawks, represented by the Trump administration’s Ambassador to Seoul Harry Harris, who has engaged “in sabotage of South Korean policies.”

As an example, it said, Harris revealed in Twitter the recent delivery of a Global Hawk reconnaissance drone bought by the Seoul government, despite efforts by South Korean military officials to dissuade him.

A former commander of the Pentagon’s Indo-Pacific Command, Harris was summoned by Seoul’s foreign ministry in August, after U.S. officials criticized its decision to end an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan

Friction also developed over Washington’s insistence that South Korea limit its relations with the North, until United States President Donald Trump had made progress in bilateral denuclearization talks.

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In the same vein, Trump is demanding that South Korea pay USD $5 billion per year for the presence of 28,000 U.S. troops in the country, in a move similar to his exigencies to western European allies. 

The sum, five times more than what Seoul currently pays, was rejected by Moon and the failure to strike a new deal has led to more than 4,000 South Korean workers being put on unpaid leave since December.

On April 15, Moon’s Democratic Party and a smaller affiliate won a landslide victory in National Assembly elections—180 seats of the total 300—the biggest majority by any party since South Korea’s transition to democracy in 1987, highlighted the Yonhap news agency.

Efficient strategy

The victory, seen as an endorsement of the efficient strategy deployed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic—there were less than 250 deaths reported in the country on Thursday—will undoubtedly boost Moon’s government policies in other areas, and this was also emphasized by responsible, affirming that “now is the time for Moon to claim leadership over another issue that the Trump administration has woefully mismanaged: relations with North Korea.”

Pursuing a less spectacularly yet more useful policy than Trump, Moon, a progressive human rights lawyer and former soldier, has met with Kim two times and signed agreements that set forth a demilitarization process in the common border, as well as revived inter-Korean diplomatic and transportation cooperation, it underscored.

Recommended: North and South Korea pledge to end war, seek denuclearization

“Unfortunately, Moon’s pro-peace diplomacy fell victim to Washington’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign on North Korea,” the article stated recalling that Trump has declared “they won’t do that without our approval. They do nothing without our approval,” when asked about Seoul’s possible lifting of sanctions on its neighbour.

Nevertheless, it added, “since Trump’s colossal failure to reach a deal with Kim in Hanoi last year, talks have frozen, not just between the U.S. and Pyongyang, yet also between the two Koreas. Not only does Moon now have a clear mandate domestically, the global context has changed, paving the way for him to pursue his inter-Korean peace agenda, with or without Washington’s approval.”

Of course, the road ahead is long and full of doubts for Moon, who probably will find in China—the main source of economic support for Pyongyang—a partner willing to contribute to regional stabilization and dialogue, in contrast to the absurd U.S. claims of “reparations” due to the coronavirus crisis

Among the uncertainties, it is evident that South Korea, China, and the U.S. must be prepared for a possible collapse of authority in a nuclear-armed state without any known plan for succession of power.

According to Tokyo Business Today, the U.S. and South Korea established in 1997 the Operational Plan (OPLAN) 5029, sparked by the death of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung (grandfather of the current leader), followed by a famine, and accompanied by the first crisis over the country’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

The plan, however, was later discarded by the government of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun—Moon was his chief of staff—due to its “unrealistic” approach and disregard for South Korea’s sovereignty, the legal situation and the internal dynamics of Pyongyang.

In any case, OPLAN 5029 envisions South Korean troops responsible for stabilization operations, while the U.S. would have the central role in securing “weapons of mass destruction.”

Kim’s disappearance from the public is not the first. An overweight heavy smoker in office since 2011, he disappeared for 40 days in 2014, prompting speculation that he had been sidelined by gout, an ankle injury or was even overthrown in a coup. The 36-year-old leader subsequently showed up walking with a cane during a visit to a new residential block.

This time, all eyes have turned to his sister and closest confidant, Kim Yo-jong, as his most likely successor, yet western and even South Korean diplomatic and media circles know very little about her (Yo-jong is believed to be 32).

Perhaps her most prominent moment in the spotlight came during the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. She served as a delegate and sat alongside Moon, in addition to being the first member of the Kim dynasty to visit the neighbouring country.

Yo-jong and her advisor Kim Song-hye would have been partially blamed after the failure to reach an agreement to lift the U.S. sanctions in the Hanoi summit between Kim and Trump; both were “purged” and interned in a “reeducation camp” before their rehabilitation. 

In March, Yo-jong released her first public statement, mocking Seoul as a “frightening dog barking” for opposing a live-fire North Korean military drill.

“Among the North’s elite, Kim Yo-jong has the highest chance to inherit power, and I think that possibility is more than 90%,” an analyst told AP.

The official titles conferred to her would confirm the above: six years ago, she was identified as deputy director of the ruling Workers Party’s department of propaganda and agitation; in 2017, Yo-jong was named alternate member of the Politburo, reportedly only the second woman ever to hold that position.

For its part, the official KCNA news agency ran a March 22 statement attributed to her, thanking Trump for a letter in which he offered cooperation in fighting COVID-19; she praised the U.S. president for sending the letter at a time when “big difficulties and challenges lie ahead in the way of developing ties” between both nations.

Nonetheless, there are other apparent aspirants to the Hermit Kingdom’s throne, such as Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, head of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and First Vice Chairman of the State Affairs Commission, whose son is the husband of Yo-jong, according to some reports.

Although his current positions are ceremonial, Choe is considered the formal head of state and he also served as Kim’s military second-in-command.

It also cannot be ruled out Kim Pyong-il, a younger half-brother of Kim’s late father, North Korea’s dear leaderKim Jong-il, who exiled him to a long career of filling ambassadorial posts in Europe, said Chinese officials.

In November at age 65 Pyong-il retired and returned to Pyongyang, where he might be waiting for a chance to seize the possible moment of weakness of his former rival’s son.

Edited by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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