North Korea’s Kim Jong-il Has Reportedly Died

19 Dec

Kim Jong-il is reportedly dead, according to the Korean Central News Agency, “‘…from a great mental and physical strain’ during a train ride at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday” (via NKLW), at the age of 69. An autopsy performed yesterday confirmed the cause of death, according to the KCNA, as “an acute myocardial infarction, which triggered a heart attack, following all possible emergency treatment.” It’s uncertain how this event will affect an American decision to donate food aid to North Korea. Interested readers can supposedly tune in here for breaking news. According to Yonhap, South Korea’s military forces are on alert, and President Lee Myung-bak has placed all government on emergency response status. NKNews has further reports here.

The Globe and Mail has a decent backgrounder on Kim Jong-il. And, the Daily Mail has the best photos (and, a really long title.

The first concern on everyone’s mind is instability, and possibly conflict, whether international or civil. Kim Jong-il’s son, Kim Jong-un, is widely viewed as the putative successor, but the actual mechanisms of transition from leader to leader are not well-known. Scott Snyder, according to The Diplomat has pointed out, that “…all this suggests is a structure that’s going to require some of the key power holders to work together in some way — it necessitates a kind of collective approach to leadership. You could look at a collective leadership as a means for managing some kind of regency, or it may simply be characteristic of a third-generation leadership. So I guess I’m questioning whether we can expect the same kind of one-man rule in a successor regime.” OTOH, Joshua Stanton directly contradicts this optimistic analysis. The Globe and Mail also offers short analyses from nine experts.

South Korea’s markets are also taking the brunt of the surprising news. One of the more surprising views of the fallout from Kim’s demise is, that the dollar is the ultimate winner.

“In light of uncertainties about what would follow after his death and what implications it would have on Asia, the initial reaction is to seek safe-haven in the dollar, which is a key global settlement currency.”

“The market was leaning towards dollar buying seasonally, given the year-end and also with the European crisis, and this preference for the dollar will strengthen further.”

“Investors will seek safe assets, namely the dollar, and the yen will likely come under selling pressure, too, in a broad risk aversion.”

China’s response is also important.

“This has really come out of the blue. It’s not like it had been rumoured for a while giving everyone time to properly prepare.”

“I think security will be stepped up in North Korea, and China is also likely to tighten security along the border.”

“If his death leads to chaos, then we could see a flow of refugees across the border.”

I think that this crisis will test all the regional players, and in particular, South Korea and Japan, especially since its response will be be more transparent than North Korea’s or China’s.

In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda called an emergency meeting of his National Security group to assess the situation. Japan has been among the countries most worried about North Korea’s military ambitions and nuclear tests.

“I’ve issued instructions (to the defense ministry) to do everything to establish an alert, monitoring stance,” Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa said on the way into the session on Monday.

Meanwhile, roughly 20 minutes before its daily noon newscast, state broadcaster China Central Television broke in with a special report on Mr. Kim’s death. It was a three-minute bare-bones account that echoed the facts from North Korea’s official media, plus a chronology of the major events of his life, intercut with stock footage. Several minutes later, it aired the program again.

The state-run Xinhua news agency offered a similar just-the-facts report.

I can honestly say, I hate the man. He and his family made my tenure in Military Intelligence necessary, and, I guess, I will always hate him for it. I can now cease to care about the topic, with honor. Uncannily, last night I downloaded three Kindle samples of some NK-themed books. I guess the bastard has saved me some money. As a leader, from what I have read of his biography in Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty, he was a resourceful bastard. He was not really loved, as the propaganda would have it, and his position as Kim Il-sung’s son fueled resentment in elite ranks. He was also a quirky leader, with his bouffant hairdo and fetish for trains and foreign actresses. This was a detestable specimen of the human animal, and the world just got better for his death. Whether North Koreans can benefit from this boon, and South Koreans adjust to a world without a super villain, is a matter for Koreans. I’m certainly glad such a widely caricatured joke is gone, because many bad pundits will need to find new material. The onus is on all governments to take advantage of this pleasant change.


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