The sudden announcement from North Korea that the unknown health condition of President Kim Jong Un was a vital one has raised questions about the imminent political future of the nation as well as its leadership. This mysterious health crisis spawned several theories until the North Korean government affirmed that President Kim Jong Un was indeed alive and well and not dead. This article explores the possible causes of this strange incident and the implications of this world-altering news.
In early April 2020, reports began to arise of President Kim Jong Un’s sudden disappearance; the international media went abuzz and allegations of the President’s death circulated widely. Though both China and North Korea refused to comment on the rumors, and with no evidence presented either way, speculation ran rampant. An anonymous intelligence official told reporters that the President had died due to complications following a heart surgery while other allegations posited that he had contracted the novel coronavirus. This flurry of rumors was exacerbated when news outlets reported that an unidentified aircraft was spotted entering and leaving the state’s airspace after the President’s alleged death.
Evidence & Accusations
Amidst the torrent of unverified stories and baseless theories about Kim Jong Un’s demise, there was an absence of reliable evidence to back them up. However, the South Korean government denied the reports citing that Kim Jong Un was actively visiting manufacturing sites and giving instructions to local leaders. In addition, satellite imagery, photographs, and videos have been released by North Korean media outlets which portray the very alive and well President. Furthermore, on May 1st, 2020, North Korea’s state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun ran a front-page story of Kim Jong Un, not his successor, providing direction to economic policies.
Implications of the News
Should Kim Jong Un’s death have been confirmed, North Korea would have certainly faced a tumultuous period of political transition and uncertainty. The North Korean Constitution calls for an interim president to serve for three years in the absence of a formal leader; in the worst-case scenario, the president’s close family members would seek to consolidate power in a form of dynastic succession. There was also the potential of a reign of terror and crackdowns on dissidents, as well as a violent power struggle between the nation’s leading parties.
The death of Kim Jong Un would have certainly affected U.S.-North Korea relations and the current denuclearization talks. Several prominent analysts suggest that if Kim had been dead the negotiations would have been drastically disrupted and any efforts to defuse the tensions between the two nations would have been completely abandoned. South Korea could also have been caught in a precarious position as its neighbor’s future became unstable and unpredictable.
own Insights and Analysis
Although firm proof of the President’s health situation was never presented, and there was no foul play involved in the North Korean leader’s health crisis, the entire incident highlights the fragility of the nation’s political system. Kim Jong Un’s unexpected disappearance from the spotlight from a health emergency that was never clarified not only created a breach of trust between North Korea and the rest of the world, but it also shed light on the North Korean government’s incapacity to confront unexpected situations and its lack of leadership.
North Korea’s Future Leadership
The eventual death of Kim Jong Un could have thrown North Korea into a period of intense political turmoil. With the President being the leader since 2011 and head of the DPRK since 2012, there is now a pressing need to develop a suitable succession plan. In the immediate future, Kim Jong Un is the absolute ruler and has no set successor—this presents the biggest challenge with respect to the viability of the state after his death.
Analysts suggest that Kim Jong Un’s heirs could be in the form of his only son Kim Jong-Chul, his younger sister Kim Yo-Jong, or any other trusted aide. It should also be noted that any attempt to develop a reliable succession plan should also recognize the diminishing prospects of stability in a post-Jong Un era. Regardless, many agree that Kim Jong-Un’s eventual replacement could potentially seek to re-strengthen domestic governance while also initiating a meaningful dialogue with external powers such as South Korea.
North Korea’s Economy
Regardless of the sudden disappearance and reappearance of Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s economy is still deeply in crisis due to the international sanctions imposed on the nation. With a GDP per capita among the lowest in the world, and with a large portion of its population living in severe poverty and food insecurity, the North Korean economy is facing profound damage from its current situation. It will take concerted efforts from the Asian nation and its neighbors in order to revive the North Korean economy and address its long-standing economic woes.
North Korea is heavily reliant on the support of China and Russia to support its economy and the international sanctions imposed by the United Nations have drastically reduced the amount of aid that these nations provide. In addition, the absence of tourism and other export-oriented sectors has further exacerbated the economic crisis, leading to further inequality and stagnation.
Finally, North Korea has increasingly relied on its sale of weapons and other military hardware to generate income. Despite this, the regime’s sanctions could be the death blow the faltering economy. As such, Kim Jong-Un and his government must work hard to develop a viable long-term economic strategy in order to address the looming economic crisis.
New Relationships with the US
North Korea has had an extremely tumultuous relationship with the United States since the end of World War II when the two countries engaged in proxy wars and skirmishes in Korea. After Kim Jong-Un’s accession to power in 2011, the country has taken a more hostile approach to its foreign affairs, particularly those with the US.
Kim Jong-Un’s disappearance and the ambiguity surrounding his health has the potential to significantly alter and improve the prospects of a peaceful and prosperous relationship between the two nations. Kim Jong-Un and US President Donald Trump have had an unconventional relationship; during the Singapore Summit of 2018, the two leaders had a memorable event where they exchanged jokes and pleasantries.
Though Kim Jong-Un’s disappearance generated fear and chaos in many circles, it is likely to provide a unique opportunity for the two nations to reset the diplomatic ties and work toward a positive future for both. In addition, North Korea’s new found interest in modernizing its economy provides valuable ground for trade and negotiations, which could benefit both nations.
Kim Jong-Un’s sudden disappearance and apparent reappearance had a potential to bring a sense of instability to the entire region of East Asia. While the domestic situation of the North Korean nation has been relatively stable under the presidency of Kim Jong-Un, many fear what would happen if there were to be a power vacuum following his departure.
Given the increasing tensions between the US and China in the South China Sea, combined with the United States withdrawing its troops from South Korea, the nation’s stability has rarely been as uncertain as it is today. In this light, South Korea has already initiated steps to pursue a closer relationship with Japan, while China has been working to improve ties with North Korea.
The military prowess of North Korea and its proximity to Japan and South Korea heightens the potential of an armed conflict should the nation’s political structure shift, which would have wide-ranging implications for the entire region. As such, it is essential for the international community to actively monitor the situation in North Korea and take steps to prevent any escalation.