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Is Kim Jong-il Dead?

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Rumors are flying worldwide that North Korea's despotic dictator, Kim Jong-il, has died. The 66-year-old's iron fist has ruled North Korea since 1994, when he ascended to power upon the death of his father, Kim Il sung, though not with the same title, President, which was retired in honor of the elder Kim. The son took control as General Secretary of the Korean Workers Party, and Chairman of the National Defense Commission. In 1998, the latter was decreed to be “the highest post of the state,” cementing Kim's hold on power, and significantly, allowing him to retain control of the country for life, without having to stand for re-election, since Chairman of the National Defense Commission is not an elected office.

North Korea is one of the most closed and secretive societies on Earth. The media is tightly controlled by Kim (and was by his father), and not much information reaches the rest of the world from inside the country, a major reason for the proliferation of rumors in recent days.

Kim has not been seen in public since mid-August, and even failed to appear on two national holidays during that time, fueling speculation for the last several weeks. Yesterday, North Korean diplomats worldwide were advised by Pyongyang to be prepared for an “important announcement.”  The last time such a message was sent to the diplomatic corps was in 1994, at the death of Kim's father, and media around the world seized on this communiqué to initiate a frenzied round of speculation.

Among the rumors in circulation, the standout, of course, is the possible death of Kim, which in turn has generated dire predictions of chaos on the peninsula, including the possibility of a significant escalation in tensions between the two Koreas.  With North Korea having recently demonstrated its good faith in scaling back its nuclear program, and its subsequent removal by the United States from the US' terrorism blacklist, Kim's possible death could, depending on who succeeds him, result in a setback in the delicate US-North Korea negotiations.

Naturally enough, much of the speculation focuses on Kim's successor. With the paucity of information coming out of North Korea in recent years, not much is known about the alignment of power in the Pyongyang government. However, debate centers on Kim's three sons, with Jong-chol, 27, Kim's middle son, as the favorite, though the youngest, Jong-un, 25, is “…often cited as the most promising but is seen as unlikely to be picked in a society where the tradition of seniority is so strong," according to the Times Online. Kim's eldest son, Jong-nam, 37, is out of favor since he was apprehended trying to enter Japan with a forged passport. Kim's brother-in-law, Jang Song-taek, 62, an official in the ruling Korean Workers Party, who is considered to be the second most powerful (after Kim himself) player in the North Korean political scene, is also a likely successor.

With the “important announcement” scheduled for today, the world may soon see a significant shift in the balance of power in Asia, as well as the possibility of escalating tensions in the region.

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About Clavos

Raised in Mexico by American parents, Clavos is proudly bi-cultural, and considers both Spanish and English as his native languages. A lifelong boating enthusiast, Clavos lives aboard his ancient trawler, Second Act, in Coconut Grove, Florida and enjoys cruising the Bahamas and Florida Keys from that base. When not dealing with the never-ending maintenance issues inherent in ancient trawlers, Clavos sells yachts to finance his boat habit, but his real love (after boating, of course) is writing and editing; a craft he has practiced at Blogcritics since 2006.
  • moon


  • Have you seen any further developments on this? Clavos? Anybody?

    The fate of the North Korean leader – or the succession struggle following his demise – is of real concern to any thinking resident of the Middle East, particularly Israel.

  • moon


    I disagree. Everybody said the same thing in 2005 when the Saudi king died–and when there was a military coup in Mauritania while that leader was attending the funeral.

    And it’s just been business as usual.

  • I have to agree with Moon here, although probably not for the same reasons.

    Because of what happened to the Soviet bloc, the West always gets hopeful of a similar collapse when rumors like this start to fly around regarding one or other of the world’s few remaining totalitarian states.

    We all hoped that Chinese communism would go the same way, but it’s thriving – albeit not in a form that Mao would remotely recognize or approve of.

    Things just aren’t done the same way in Asia as they are in Europe, and the possible demise of North Korea’s dictator doesn’t necessarily herald any change in the way that country deals with itself or the world.

  • moon

    There you go, Doc, making assumptions again.

    Please knock it off. You have no idea what my reasons are.

  • There you go, Moon, overreacting again.

    Please knock it off. I said probably. It’s what’s known as a qualifier.

  • Matt

    Ehhh he is most likely dead or so ill that he cannot function as a leader. North Korean media released several photos supposedly showing Kim up and going, but they were so poorly doctored that South Koreans had a good laugh over it and intelligence agencies are trying not to say anything about the sensitive subject. The fact that NK is trying so hard to battle speculations over Kim’s health just shows that he is actually not ok.