Known and Unknown Facts about North Korea: Is Kim Jong-un still alive?
Professor Rajaram Panda
Introduction

One of the most isolated countries in contemporary world, North Korea is never short of news and hogs the limelight in international media outlets. Whether it is its withdrawal from the 1968 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) on 10 January 20031 or nuclear and missile development programs or threats to annihilate the United States or put Japan on a “sea of fire” 2, or even the claims that it has no case of fatality due to coronavirus3 that is sweeping the world, it has secured its place in the international media attention. The latest in this narrative is the issue of succession after news surfaced that the ruling dictator Kim Jong-un is battling life with serious health ailments. As was the news on the succession issue that remained unclear till the last moment when Kim Jong-un’s father was critically ill and until the successor was announced finally when Kim Jong-Il was still alive in 2011, so is the case now. While even the news that Kim is gravely ill remains unconfirmed as South Korea and China cast doubts on reports4, speculation is rife on what would be the future of North Korea should Kim suddenly depart the world.

Kim’s absence from an important anniversary event on 15 April rekindled speculation over his potential health problems.5 April 15 was the birth anniversary of the national founder and Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, marked as a national holiday known as the Day of the Sun. When senior officials paid tribute to the embalmed body of Kim Il-sung enshrined in the Kumsusan Palace of Sun, Kim was absent unlike in the past. His photo also did not appear in the photos released by party mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun.

Kim’s purported absence triggered speculation among experts that Kim, aged 36 and overweight, might be having health problems. Kim’s health had deteriorated since August 2019 due to heavy smoking, obesity and overwork. He is reputed to have developed a liking for liquor and high-calorie food. He was receiving treatment at a villa in the Mount Myohyang resort north of Pyongyang. His cardiovascular problems seemed to have worsened after repeated visits to Mount Paektu, the country's sacred mountain, where Kim rode a stallion on the snowy slopes in October and December 2019.

It was the first time in decades Kim’s visit to the palace on this occasion was not reported since he took power on 29 December 2011 after his father’s death. On earlier occasions, Kim was a regular visitor there on the birthdays of his grandfather and father to flaunt his loyalty to them and sacred bloodline. His absence this time inevitably gave rise to speculation about his possible bad health conditions. It was only on 14 April, Pyongyang launched multiple short-range anti-ship cruise missiles into the sea and Sukhoi jets fired air-to-surface missiles as part of the military exercise and as part of the celebration. Such military events have usually been observed by Kim but this time, there was no report indicating his attendance. Kim’s last public appearance was on 11 April when he presided over a meeting of the ruling Worker’s Party’s politburo.

There were reports that Kim had undergone a cardiovascular procedure and was in "grave danger" and that he was recovering from the procedure and hence his absence. According to the US intelligence sources, Kim’s conditions worsened after the surgery. South Korea’s presidential Blue House was circumspect, saying there were no unusual signs coming out from the reclusive and nuclear-capable state.

The issue of Kim’s health conditions assume global importance because not only Kim is the unquestioned leader of North Korea and the sole commander of its nuclear arsenal but also there is no clear successor. Therefore, any instability in the country could be a major international risk. As soon as Kim’s health conditions made news, South Korean shares exposed to North Korea tumbled and the Korean won fell, trading more than 1 per cent against the dollar

What does China think?

Initially China, North Korea’s only major ally, denied Kim was critically ill, while admitting of being aware of the reports of Kim’s health. Beijing knows well that Kim’s health is key to stability in North Korea.

China lost no time in sending a team including doctors and led by a senior member of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) international liaison department on 16 April to North Korea to check on Kim’s health. 6 As a heavy smoker and overweight, Kim has a history of cardio vascular problems in the family. According to weekly Shukan Gendai, Kim needed a stent procedure which calls for placing a tube into a congested blood vessel to allow blood to keep flowing to the heart.

In North Korea, the health of its leaders is treated as a matter of state security. When Kim’s father Kim Jong-il, suffered a stroke in 2008, Chinese doctors were involved in his treatment along with French physicians. Even in the past in 2014, Kim had vanished for more than a month and was shown in the TV walking with a limp. Speculation about his health has been fanned by his heavy smoking, apparent weight gain since taking power and family history of cardiovascular problems.

Despite that Beijing has disapproved many of Kim’s acts it still remains North Korea’s chief ally and the economic lifeline to bail out since it is hard-hit by UN sanctions. It takes a keen interest in the stability of the country with which it shares a long, porous border. In 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping made the first state visit in 14 years by a Chinese leader to North Korea, an impoverished state that depends on Beijing for economic and diplomatic support. Kim is a third-generation hereditary leader who came to power after his father Kim Jong Il died in 2011 from a heart attack. He has visited China four times since 2018. It soon transpired that Kim’s health appears to be more serious than initially believed and that he was already in a “vegetative state”.7

Kim's potential health issues could fuel uncertainty over the future of the reclusive state's dynastic rule and stalled denuclearisation talks with the US, issues in which Kim wields absolute authority. With no details known about his young children, analysts say his sister and loyalists could form a regency until a successor is old enough to take over. Given the tight control on information, obtaining correct report from the country is extremely difficult. Reporters have to only depend on information released by the official propaganda. In particular, matters concerning the country’s leadership are too secretive as government maintains tight control on information. Past reports on matters related to its leaders are too conflicting.

Being the third-generation hereditary leader, Kim rules North Korea with an iron-fist, taking over the titles of head of state and commander in chief of the military since late 2011. In recent years Kim has launched a diplomatic offensive to promote both himself as a world leader and his hermit kingdom, holding three meetings with US President Donald Trump, four with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and five with China's President Xi Jinping. He was the first North Korean leader to cross the border into South Korea to meet Moon in 2018, despite that both Koreas are technically still at war, with the Korean War of 1950-53 ending in an armistice, not with a peace treaty. Kim assiduously pursued through summit diplomacy to obtain sanctions relief while refusing to dismantle his nuclear weapons program, compelling President Trump to refuse to comply.

Impact of rumour of Kim’s health on Ties with US

What kind of relationship between the US and North Korea can be envisioned should Kim depart the scene? A possible scenario post-Kim could be an excellent opportunity for the US to reassess several characteristics in the bilateral relationships. Kim could have been ill as conjectured by several reports but not all can be confirmed given the manner in which North Korea releases official information. Even if Kim does not surface for some time, this does not mean that one should assume that he died. In the past several high-ranking public officials suddenly disappeared only to resurface later. Even for the first family, such news could be no different. For example, when Kim Jong-un’s father had a massive stroke in August 2008, this was kept hidden from the rest of the world for several months. And the country functioned normally without any sign of power vacuum.

President Trump had a great opportunity to assess Kim during his three summit meetings and obtained insight about his personality, thinking and priorities, something that was difficult during his father and grandfather’s times. Though the Singapore (June 2018) and Hanoi (February 2019) summits yielded no positive outcome, both leaders maintained the letter diplomacy to keep the channel of communication alive. 8

What could possibly worry Trump is however should Kim be incapacitated, the future of nuclear arsenal could remain uncertain. Would the military or whoever may be in command post-Kim decide to keep the missiles and warheads in their garrisons or dispersed to confuse Trump? That remains in the realm of the unknowns. The issue of command and control of nuclear weapons at the time of previous succession was not a matter of concern than it is today. North Korea did test two nuclear weapons even before Kim Jong-il died. But the nuclear arsenal that North Korea acquired during Kim Jong-un is so huge that Trump would lose sleep in a post-Kim scenario. Had Kim developed the health crisis then in 2017 when both US and North Korea were on the brink of an armed conflict, Kim’s incapacitation then would have been a matter of grave concern even in peace time as the unpredictability could have been high.

Though Trump did not succeed in persuading North Korea to give up nuclear weapons before any sanctions relief, South Korean President Moon Jae-in at least had some success with reducing conventional military instability by setting narrower goals. Though neither the US nor South Korea can get a full measure of North Korea’s actual arsenal, the success can be at least measured in the realm of engagement so far achieved.

The most positive post-Kim scenario that could be to Trump’s advantage should Kim die, is the possible improvement of understanding with South Korea and China on the future of North Korea. While the blame-game over COVID-19 has added to the bitter trade frictions between the US and China, the military cost-sharing negotiations between the US and South Korea are distracting issues; the North Korean issue post-Kim period could override such differences.

Post-Kim Scenarios

When Kim Il-sung was getting old, he had already groomed his son Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un’s father, as his successor for many years. When Kim Jong-il died in 2011, his son Kim Jong-un had hardly a year in training but he consolidated his power by ruthless manner. So, the third generation of Kim dynasty had so far experienced successful transition of power. The present situation presents a completely different picture with the news of Kim’s health worsening and there is no clear line of succession. The news of Kim’s possible death is as scary as the coronavirus spread has been to the world as the event would unfold unforeseen security dilemmas for many countries. There is a renewed worry about who is next in line to run a nuclear-armed country that has been ruled by the same family for seven decades. In the possible post-Kim situation, some scenarios may be drawn.

Scenario 1 (Kim Yo-Jong, sister succeeds)

During the seven-decades that the Kim dynasty has ruled North Korea, the dynasty has passed through only male heirs like other hereditary dynasties. But the 36-year-old Kim Jung-un has named no successor. There is deep uncertainty about the line of succession more than eight years after Kim took over. His children are too young and the ruling family’s surviving adults face potential barriers to their rise.

Regime preservation within the Kim family is of utmost importance to Kim Jong-un. To maintain this “theocratic” system, Kim Jong-un’s successor must be from the Baektu Bloodline and thus maintain that purity. The only person who is a descendant of Kim Il-sung, in Kim Jong-un’s inner circle, and is of ruling age is his sister, Kim Yo-jong.9 She is part royal representative, part personal assistant and has emerged as one of her older brother’s closest aides. In early April 2020, she was reinstated as an alternate Politburo member of the ruling Workers Party of Korea. She is the only other member of the Kim family with anything approaching real power in the regime.10

Kim Yo-jong was the first member of the ruling family to visit Seoul and accompanied her brother Kim Jong-un in his summits with President Trump in Singapore and Hanoi, and Chinese President Xi Jinping. She also performed mundane tasks, such as helping the brother extinguish a cigarette during a train stop in China. However, whether North Korea’s patriarchal elite will support a relatively young woman as the country’s next “supreme leader” remains unclear. It is hard to say for sure who would rule.

She has demonstrated the authority to make official statements in her own name in state media, thereby continued with family tradition of insulting critics of North Korea’s military actions. After South Korea condemned a North Korean military drill in March, Kim Yo-jong likened South Korea’s presidential office to “a burnt child dreading fire,” while also calling the South a “frightened dog barking”.

Kim Jong-un may have groomed his sister Kim Yo-jong as a senior political figure, but she lacks the necessary preparations to be presented as the first female head of state. If she succeeds as the fourth leader of North Korea, it remains unclear if the political male elders embodying the patriarchal system would accept her. In North Korea’s upper ranks, what matters most are family ties, and Kim Yo-jong would likely derive a huge part of her legitimacy, if not all of it, from those blood ties.

Opinions are divided, however. Mitchell Lerner is of the opinion that Kim’s sister would not take over if Kim dies but the military might.11 Lerner argues that though Kim Yo-jong assumed a prominent role, she is young at 31 years of age and the communist traditions do not support a young woman to be the likely successor. Given the culture of purges of potential rivals, a power struggle is likely to follow if Kim dies and the victor will make sure that his sister soon rests next to him.12

During the power transition and after, whosoever succeeds is likely to show increased belligerence in order to consolidate hold on power. As a consequence, whatever gains were achieved through the summit diplomacy and a thaw in US-North Korea relations would have been lost. Increased provocation is the known means to rally the people and to justify failures and thus the cycle will run again. According to Lerner, the “most probable course is thus a nasty power struggle that leaves a military coalition, probably headed by Choe Ryong-hae, in charge, albeit under the guise of acting as regent for one of Kim’s young children”.13 While tensions in US-North Korea ties will increase, ties between the two Koreas will decline.

Gabriela Bernal, however, holds a contrarian view. According to him, Kim’s sister would take charge if he died14 but likely only until his son came of age. He says that an authoritative Kim family member would be needed in order to maintain absolute control over the country. This person would most likely be Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister. Other adult members of the Kim family are either dead or in exile. Kim’s brother, Kim Jong-chol, is another unlikely option given his low profile and lack of interest in politics. Kim Yo-jong, on the other hand, has rapidly gained political notoriety both at home and abroad over the past two years. Little is known about Kim’s children though the news circulates that he has three children, with the eldest being 10 years of age. Kim Yo-jong therefore is expected to hold fort until Kim’s eldest son comes of age.

There is yet another possibility. Since a woman at the helm could be problematic in a patriarchal society, Kim Pyong-il (Kim Jong-il’s paternal half-brother) may be asked to be a political guardian of Kim Yo-jong, or be a successor himself. Kim Pyong-il, who has been serving as a diplomat abroad for forty years and recently returned to Pyongyang, is within the Baektu Bloodline and may be invited into the inner circle to support Kim Yo-jong to maintain the regime within the Kim Dynasty. He could be part of a larger “collective leadership” that supports and guides Kim Yo-jong as the head of state. If she is not prepared to be immediately presented to the public amidst a sudden death of Kim Jong-un, there may be a transitional period during which a collective leadership reigns.

Baek writes: “While possible, it is difficult to imagine that a collective leadership will take over the state in the long run in the absence of a successor who is from the Kim Family. This is because the political legitimacy of the state is derived from the mythical narrative that North Korea’s founding father Kim Il-sung is essentially a god, and his successors will continue to lead the Socialist revolution and protect the nation. North Korea without a successor from the Kim family is like worshippers going to church without a deity to worship.”15

Scenario 2 (Kim Jong Un’s Son)

In the conventional line of dynastic succession, a male heir is always desirable. Kim Jong-un married Ri Sol-ju, a former singer, in 2009 and is thought to have three children. The children are yet to be officially mentioned, though the oldest believed to be a son was born in 2010. There is also a daughter named Ju Ae believed to be 7 or 8 years old. Ri Sol-ju gave birth to a third child in February 2019. Very little is known about the children. Kim’s sister is likely to take charge until the eldest son comes of age.

Scenario 3 (Kim Han Sol, Nephew)

Kim Han Sol, born in 1995, may have become heir-apparent himself if his father, Kim Jong Nam, had not fallen out with Kim Jong Il and gone into exile in the Chinese gambling hub of Macau. Kim Jong Nam was Kim Jong-un’s older half-brother and his most serious rival, frequenting casinos and occasionally criticizing his younger sibling’s regime. Any hopes that Kim Han Sol might have had of returning to Pyongyang were dashed in 2017, when his father was murdered at the Kuala Lumpur airport by two women who smeared VX nerve agent on his face.16 Chinese police later arrested several North Koreans dispatched to Beijing on suspicion of plotting to kill Kim Han Sol. His whereabouts remain unknown.

Scenario 4 (Kim Jong Chol, Brother)

Kim Jong Chol, Kim Jong-un’s only surviving brother, has shown more interest in guitars than politics. Thae Yong Ho, the former No. 2 at North Korea’s embassy in London who defected to South Korea and recently won an election in South Korea, once said Kim’s elder brother “doesn’t own any official title” adding he is “just a really talented guitarist.” Kim Jong Il saw his middle son as “girlish,” according to the person who goes by the pen name of Kenji Fujimoto and claims to have been the personal sushi chef for the former North Korean leader. In 2011, South Korean broadcaster KBS captured Kim Jong Chol enjoying an Eric Clapton concert in Singapore. Little else is known about him except that he studied in Switzerland and is a fan of US professional basketball like his brother.17

Steven Borowiec is of the view that though Kim Yo-Jong is mentioned to be the potential successor if Kim Jong-un dies there shall be not much change.18 But if Kim suddenly dies and the state might lose control, it would mean the nuclear and chemical weapons would remain unsecured and result in a flood of refugees into neighbouring China. However, given the command system firmly entrenched, a popular rebellion or overthrow of the system would be extremely unlikely. There has never been any sign of any movement of any kind in North Korea plotting the regime’s demise and ready to step in at a time of vulnerability. Borowiec observes: “While North Korea is a black box, its system runs deeper than the rule of any one person.”19

State during Power Transition

Though it is impossible to project with certainty what North Korea would look like without Kim Jong-un at the helm, the most plausible scenario could be whoever takes the helm, the 25 million citizens of North Korea may not expect much change in their lives. In any case, most people outside of the wealthy elite live in poverty and lack civil rights. So, they cannot expect much difference in their lives.

The North Korea-US relations could see another round of tensions as whoever succeeds would try to consolidate his/her position at the helm in the first place. The new leadership would like to test how much Washington would tolerate without repercussions. South Korea under the liberal President Moon Jae-in would continue to offer olive branch to the new leader hoping that North Korea would finally come out of the cold, make concessions toward giving up its nuclear weapons and join the international community. The sense of self-preservation, which also means protecting the elites comfort and privileges, will be firmly rooted as before. Unless that is secured, the new leader’s position shall remain on a shaky foundation. Unlike change in a democratic set up when people look for better conditions of life, in a dynastic authoritarian system that is not the case. People’s well-being is never a priority despite propaganda offensive which is always for outside consumption. People’s well-being in a regime change never gets priority and even if Kim departs from the scene, things are likely to remain the same.

US Expectations post-Kim Period

Irrespective of whether Kim survives or dies, the US policy towards North Korea is unlikely to see a dramatic change. Its focus in seeking denuclearisation shall continue and the goals shall remain unchanged irrespective of who is in charge in Pyongyang.20 However, Ted Galen Carpenter argues that irrespective of whether Kim dies soon or remains in power for years, “Washington should make a push now to normalize diplomatic relations with Pyongyang”.21 He further argues that that step requires the US to end its futile quest for North Korea’s denuclearization. Instead, the US needs to be content with more limited tension-reduction measures. Those include a treaty formally ending the Korean War, at least a partial lifting of US sanctions imposed on Pyongyang, and the establishment of full diplomatic relations. That would create an environment of less confrontational and more normal relationship with North Korea.

Carpenter argues that “continuing to ignore or attempt to isolate the country is counterproductive and potentially very dangerous. In addition to reducing bilateral tensions, establishing an embassy in Pyongyang and consulates in other North Korean cities would be a bonanza for Washington’s intelligence capabilities. It would be beneficial for the United States to have its own robust intelligence on developments inside North Korea that could then be cross checked with Seoul’s assessments.”22 Such a suggestion could be a wishful thinking as no US administration is likely to change its policy on the denuclearisation demand of North Korea.

Scenario 5 (Post-Kim Contingency)

Is the outside world prepared for a North Korean contingency if Kim suddenly dies? There are more questions than answers. If Kim does not really die but incapacitated and unable to discharge official functions, who fills in the power vacuum? Will the perception of the outside world change and if so in what manner it would conduct relations with North Korea? Will the world explore new approaches to deal with North Korea’s nuclear issue that moves towards resolution? How will the world deal with another crisis, thus far unknown, should Kim depart the world? Soo Kim, Policy Analyst at the Rand Corporation opines that given that ambiguity, shrouding, and optical illusions are North Korea’s bread-and-butter for survival, in a Pyongyang contingency, “objects in mirror will be larger yet smaller, rosier yet gloomier, rougher yet smoother, and more cohesive yet disintegrated than they appear.” 23

However, if history is any guide, North Korea would handle the death of Kim by using a fog of misinformation to maintain stability, just as Pyongyang did with Kim Jong-il. When Kim Jong-il, father of current leader, suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma in 2008, the question of potential instability and a possible power struggle came up. What the government then did was to keep the illness secret for weeks and kept him out of the public eye for months. The key concern then was the future of the nuclear arsenal. That question assumes more salience now because of the advancements Kim has made and the economy remaining fragile as before in the wake of sanctions. But then, political succession ran through smoothly as information was controlled to the outside world and Kim Jong-un was groomed in short time to succeed. The situation is much different now with no political heir, a progeny of Kim, ready to take over.

Even after Kim Jong-il’s death, the fear of regime collapse at that time was much talked about but the regime survived and became more robust under Kim Jong-un. So now too, one can expect tighter control of information flow to the outside world and also to keep the citizens in dark to avoid a panic situation. Jean H. Lee, Director of the Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Centre for Korean History and Public Policy at the Wilson Centre is of the opinion that though we may not know immediately if Kim is dead, incapacitated and unable to perform official duties, “the inner circle would seek to conceal the true state of matters for as long as possible to buy time to maintain stability and put a succession plan in place”.24

The most dreaded scenario for North Korea could be if Kim Jong-un really dies and news becomes public, the regime unity is undermined and the disgruntled public rises in opposition. In such a situation, the regime shall reach a “tipping point”, demonstrating its incapability to arrest the drift towards deterioration of law and order situation, moving quickly to the state collapse and the inevitable end of the North Korean regime and thus end of the Kim dynasty. Sung-han Kim, a professor at Korea University and former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, South Korea, is of the opinion that “North Korea has retained its regime by more coercive means than any other state in the world. Hence, the most plausible tipping point for North Korea would emerge when anti-Kim forces within the North Korean regime have come together to overthrow him”.25

If Kim Jong-un had a natural death and not killed or died in an accident, the most plausible scenario seems to be pro-Kim forces shall maintain regime unity by making Kim’s sister Kim Yo-jong to succeed her brother or by a collective leadership that consists of top party and military leaders until she is ready to lead. How the critical transition is overcome by preventing anti-Kim Yo-jong forces from emerging in and around the new collective leadership would be the key as Kim Yo-jong is young and lacks experience and charisma. But the more dangerous scenario could be if the collective leadership is unable to handle the toughest internal and external environments compounded by the closed border due to the COVID-19. Since the economy is deteriorating because of closed border with China and under the weight of the sanctions, it would be difficult for the collective leadership to control the restive people if they rise in rebellion. The disgruntled elements affected by Kim’s purges and executions, including his own uncle Jang Sung-taek, whose supporters were also eliminated afters after his death, could return to challenge the collective leadership.

What could be China’s Role post-Kim?

“The sudden demise of Kim will act as an Achilles’ heel of international politics in Northeast Asia where the balance of power is maintained, as well as on the Korean Peninsula”, observes Nam Seung Hyun, Dean of the Graduate School of Public Policy at the Korea University.26 The sudden death can have domestic as well as external consequences. At home, the dynastic rule could come under assault, with possible end to the system.

Kim Yo-jong could be temporarily in the forefront but if she can survive and if so for how long in a patriarchal society would remain unclear. A collective leadership similar to what happened in the Soviet Union after the death of Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin or in China after Mao Zedong’s demise could emerge. China is likely to focus on stabilizing Pyongyang by constructing a pro-Chinese shadow cabinet.

All stakeholders would strike to maintain the prevailing status quo and prevent much volatility in the power equilibrium in Northeast Asia. China would fear as much as 3 millions refugees crossing over to survive. For its own strategic consideration, China is unlikely to abandon North Korea and continue to support to prevent the collapse of security. The security scenario could get complex if South Korea-US alliance sends its forces northward from the Imjin River near the Demilitarized Zone in Panmunjom towards Pyongyang Daedong River-Wonsan Line. When military tensions inevitably increase, big stakeholders such as the US and China ought to sit together and engage in a full-scale dialogue to search for lasting peace. However, if China feels that its strategic leverage over North Korea has started getting weaker, then it might get more involved in the internal affairs of North Korea, much to the discomfiture of the US. Should the US in collaboration with South Korea decide to intervene militarily to restore order and quell rebellion, China would not be expected to sit quiet. China would be likely to intervene even with greater vigour. Such a situation would be ripe for a second Korean War to break out. Patient diplomacy is needed to avert such a possibility.

Impact on India

India is far away from the scene and there would not be any immediate repercussion if turbulence occurs on the Korean Peninsula. But Japan and South Korea being two important trading partners, any dramatic upheaval there would adversely affect India’s economic relations with both, as also with China. The geopolitical consequences would not remain confined to just Northeast Asia but engulf a wider area. In an interconnected and economically interdependent world, no individual country can remain immune from happening of such gigantic nature. Though India would not be expected to have any direct role should situation in the Korean Peninsula deteriorate in the event of Kim’s demise or otherwise, India can at least play its sobering role with shrewd diplomacy.

Endnotes
  1. “North Korea withdraws from nuclear treaty”, 10 January 2003, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/jan/10/northkorea1
  2. Rajaram Panda, “NK’s fire in the sky”, The Statesman, 2 August 2017, https://www.thestatesman.com/opinion/nk-s-fire-in-the-sky-1501705388.html
  3. Rajaram Panda, ““Battling COVID-19: Truth and Untruth about North Korea”, Mainstream, 18 April 2020, LVIII, No. 18. http://mainstreamweekly.net/article9324.html
  4. “South Korea, Japan cast doubt on reports N. Korea leader Kim gravely ill”, 21 April 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/kim-jong-un-treatment-cardiovascular-procedure-12661066
  5. “North Korean leader absence from anniversary event fuels speculation over health”, 17 April 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/north-korea-kim-jong-un-health-problems-12653446?cid=h3_referral_inarticlelinks_24082018_cna
  6. Sutirtho Patranobis, “China checks on Kim Jong-un’s ill health, sends a team to North Korea”, 25 April 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/china-sends-team-to-north-korea-amid-reports-of-kim-jong-un-s-ill-health/story-k5oEoVbIrH7ySFxiwF5yOM.html; “China sent team including medical experts to advise on North Korea’s Kim: Sources”, 25 April 2020,
    https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2020/04/103_288477.html
  7. “Kim Jong-un in ‘vegetative state’, China medical team to reach North Korea”, The Statesman, 26 April 2020, https://www.thestatesman.com/world/kim-jong-un-vegetative-state-china-medical-team-reach-north-korea-1502880959.html, Dana Kennedy, “Kim Jong Un in ‘vegetative state,’ Japanese media report says”, 25 April 2020, https://nypost.com/2020/04/25/kim-jong-un-in-vegetative-state-japanese-media-report-says/
  8. Eric Gomez, “The Known and Unknowns of Kim Jong-un’s Rumoured Illness”, 21 April 2020, https://www.cato.org/blog/known-unknowns-kim-jong-uns-rumored-illness
  9. Jieun Baek, “Meet Kim Pyong-Il: Would Kim Jong-Un's Uncle and Sister Rule North Korea Next?” 24 April 2020, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/korea-watch/meet-kim-pyong-il-would-kim-jong-uns-uncle-and-sister-rule-north-korea-next-148056
  10. “Explained: Possible heirs to North Korea’s throne after Kim Jung-un”, Bloomberg, 24 April 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-who-are-possible-heirs-to-north-koreas-throne-after-kim-jong-un-6379688/
  11. Mitchell Lerner, “No, Kim Jong-Un's Sister Won't Take Over If He Dies”, 23 April 2020, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/korea-watch/no-kim-jong-uns-sister-wont-take-over-if-he-dies-147466
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Gabriela Bernal, “Yes, Kim Jun-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong would take charge if he died”, 23 April 2020, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/korea-watch/yes-kim-jong-uns-sister-kim-yo-jong-would-take-charge-if-he-died-147456
  15. Baek, n. 9.
  16. See, Rajaram Panda, “Mystery Behind Kim Jong-nam’s Assassination”, 18 February 2017,
    http://www.eurasiareview.com/18022017-mystery-behind-kim-jong-nams-assassination-analysis/
  17. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-who-are-possible-heirs-to-north-koreas-throne-after-kim-jong-un-6379688/
  18. Steven Borowiec, “Commentary: Imagine a North Korea without Kim Jong-un. Here’s why you can’t”, 25 April 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/commentary/kim-jong-un-sick-north-korea-leader-surgery-seriously-ill-12673858?cid=emarsys-cna_20200425_0059_FINAL+CNA+Mon+to+Sat+newsletter+%280740%29_n
  19. Ibid.
  20. “Kim exit won’t change US goals in North Korea: Pompeo”, 23 April 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/kim-exit-wouldn-t-change-us-goals-in-north-korea-pompeo-12669680?cid=h3_referral_inarticlelinks_24082018_cna
  21. Ted Galen Carpenter, “Whether Kim Jong-un Lives or Dies, America Should Normalize Relations With Pyongyang”, 23 April 2020, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/whether-kim-jong-un-lives-or-dies-america-should-normalize-relations-pyongyang-147481
  22. Ibid
  23. Soo Kim, “Why We Really Don't Know What Happens If Kim Jong-un Dies”, 23 April 2020, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/korea-watch/why-we-really-dont-know-what-happens-if-kim-jong-un-dies-147471 https://nationalinterest.org/blog/korea-watch/why-we-really-dont-know-what-happens-if-kim-jong-un-dies-147471
  24. Jean H. Lee, “History Tells Us How North Korea Would Handle the Death of Kim Jong-un”, 23 April 2020, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/korea-watch/history-tells-us-how-north-korea-would-handle-death-kim-jong-un-147361
  25. “Sung-han Kim, What Might Happen If North Korea's Leader Kim Jong-Un Were to Die?”, 23 April 2020, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/korea-watch/what-might-happen-if-north-koreas-leader-kim-jong-un-were-die-147321
  26. Nam Seung Hyun, “”Here’s What Would Happen If Kim Jong-Un Suddenly Died”, 23 April 2020, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/korea-watch/heres-what-would-happen-if-kim-jong-un-suddenly-died-147256

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