Current Events and the Psychology of Politics

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Rumors are swirling on the internet that Kim Jong-un is in a vegetative state or has died as the result of a botched cardiac procedure; however, there has been no confirmation of these reports by official government agencies or reliable sources.

38 North reports:

A train probably belonging to Kim Jong Un has been parked at the Leadership Railway Station servicing his Wonsan compound since at least April 21, according to commercial satellite imagery. The train’s presence does not prove the whereabouts of the North Korean leader or indicate anything about his health, but it does lend weight to reports that Kim is staying at an elite area on the country’s eastern coast.

April 26, 2020 Update: Dynastic Succession in North Korea

Anna Fifield, Washington Post bureau chief in Beijing and author of The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un provides an informative analysis of the prospects for dynastic succession or continuity of governance in the event of Kim Jong-un’s death.

If Kim turns out to be fine, it would hardly be the first time that reports of the death of a North Korean leader had been greatly exaggerated. Japanese and South Korean newspapers killed off his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, and his father, Kim Jong Il, multiple times in the years before either man actually died.

Kim Jong Un’s premature demise was also reported in 2014, when his disappearance from public view for six weeks sparked talk of death by military coup, heart attack, or excessive cheese consumption. …

What if Kim Jong Un dies? There is no clear successor for him. …

April 28, 2020 Update: Medical Opinion by Kenneth B. Dekleva, M.D.

[Kim Jong Un’s] absence now is of notable concern, given multiple reports about Kim having received some form of cardiac surgery and possibly suffering from subsequent complications. While these reports remain unconfirmed, the security consequences of Kim’s sudden demise or incapacitation could be enormous, given the lack of clarity on what comes next. …

I am Kim’s heart: The health status of Chairman Kim Jong Un
(Kenneth B. Dekleva, 38 North, April 28, 2020)

April 29, 2020 Update: Imagery Shows Train at Kim Jong Un’s Wonsan Compound Again

38 North reports:

Commercial satellite imagery from April 29 shows a train at the leadership train station that services Kim Jong Un’s compound in the coastal city of Wonsan. While a train was first observed at this station on April 21 and again on April 23, it cannot be determined whether it has remained at the station since then. On April 29, the train is situated in the same position as before. However, the engine is no longer parked alongside the south end of the train. Whether the engine car has departed or was simply moved under the station’s canopy is unclear. But in either case, the train does not appear to be prepared for departure.

Image: ©2020 Planet Labs, Inc. via 38 North.

May 1, 2020 Update: Does Kim Jong Un Have a Succession Plan?

Chris Steinitz, Ken Gause, and Elizabeth Yang offer an insightful analysis at 38 North of scenarios for succession and continuity of governance in the event of Kim Jong-un’s demise.

If the leader were merely incapacitated, the immediate, temporary structure would likely be led by a small group of family and close aides, who would make decisions along established lines, maintaining the status quo. This small collective would carry out the day-to-day affairs of the regime, not unlike the group that supported Kim Jong Il after his stroke in 2008.

If Kim Jong Un dies, however, the situation would become much more precarious. An initial leadership group would likely be set up that includes those above, as well as members from the Party, military, and internal security. Whether someone like Kim Yo Jong would sit atop this structure or would assume the role of Supreme Leader is unclear. It is also possible that some male member of the Kim family could be put forth as a figurehead for legitimacy purposes, instead of Kim Yo Jong.

May 2, 2020 Update: Kim Jong Un Resurfaces

The New York Times reports:

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, resurfaced in public view on Friday, the North’s state news media reported Saturday, controverting three weeks of rumors and unconfirmed news reports that he was in grave danger after undergoing heart surgery. …

Mr. Kim, 36, had last appeared publicly on April 11. … Rumors subsequently went into overdrive, claiming that Mr. Kim was “in grave danger,” in a “vegetative state” after botched heart-valve surgery, or in quarantine after contracting Covid-19. Other reports said that China had sent doctors to Pyongyang to save him.

After its initial report on Saturday, the North Korean news agency released photos showing a smiling Mr. Kim applauding, cutting a ribbon, and standing with his hands behind his back at a new fertilizer factory.

Related links on this site

The Leadership Style of North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un (June 12, 2018)

North Korea Threat Assessment: The Psychological Profile of Kim Jong-un (April 8, 2013)

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