BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT
Scattered reports are coming in–all unconfirmed–that the North Korean strongman, Kim Jong-un, is dead. The Washington Examiner reports also that a team of Chinese medical professionals are heading to North Korea to “check in” on the status of Kim Jong-un. Should it prove to be true that Kim is, in fact, deceased, one should keep in mind the possibility that he was assassinated.
Should Kim be dead, it is assumed that his sister will take power. Or, at the very least, there will be a power struggle for dominance. There was a fascinating piece in Quartz a few days ago which suggested that, while Kim Yo Jong (who the Western press has been creepily swooning over since her appearance at the Olympics at her brother’s side a few years ago) is a shoo-in for power in North Korea, her gender makes her coronation as supreme leader of the Hermit Kingdom questionable.
And since North Korea’s line of succession is based on blood relation to the deceased founder of the maniacal, totalitarian state, Kim Il-sung, the most likely successor to Kim Jong-un would have to be from the family. Yet, while Kim Jong-un did have children, none are old enough to succeed him. He does have an older half-brother, whose own father, the utterly bonkers (now, thankfully, deceased) Kim Jong-il, claimed was “too girlie” to become ruler, it seems as unlikely that the older half-brother who is a noted guitarist who has been spotted in attendance of Eric Clapton concerts about five years ago (can you blame him?) Interestingly, his 65 year-old uncle, Kim Pyong-il, was a long-time diplomat in Europe and returned to North Korea last Fall. Of course, Kim Jong-un had another of his uncles, Jang Song-Thaek, China’s “man” in the North Korean inner circle, gruesomely murdered in 2013 (likely because poor old Jang was viewed as being China’s “man” on the inside).
The Quartz piece also rightly highlights Choe Ryong-Hae, who rose to become the head of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly “making him the nominal head of state.” Yet, Choe is not blood and does not have the kind of support or attention that others enjoy–notably Kim Yo Jong, the sister to North Korea’s current Supreme Leader.
More interestingly, the piece highlights the fact that with power and popularity and support being so split, with Kim Yo-Jong enjoying “90 percent” of just claim to the throne of North Korea, it is likely that some kind of “collective leadership” may arise in which Kim Yo-Jong enjoys the majority control in a coalition leadership of North Korea, with power split between herself and the likes of people like Kim Pyong-il and Choe Ryong-Hae.
It is this option that I would like to comment on, as reports circulate now that Kim Jong-un is, in fact, still alive, but is on a ventilator and not expected to survive (we shall see). Many have rightly understood that China is the key to settling America’s ongoing problems with North Korea. Yet, Washington has had little luck in getting Beijing to do its bidding. It should be noted that Beijing has remained the only true ally of North Korea throughout its decades-long history as international pariah. This is likely because China uses North Korea’s threat as a strategic lever to pull whenever tensions with Washington ever get too bad; it’s a perfect distraction that tends to work like a charm.
That should tell you something about the strategic calculus among the Chinese Communist Party vis-a-vis North Korea and the United States: they’re behind North Korea. Or, at least, they don’t want to be on the wrong side of what is increasingly an unstable nuclear-arming regional power (much like questions abounded as to whether Vikram Pandit at Citigroup in 2008 or the company was running him, it remains to be seen if the Chinese Communist Party is actually running North Korea or if North Korea is running the CCP).
Anyway, Kim Jong-un brutally murdered his uncle in 2013, who was suspected of being China’s “man” on the inside. In fact, Kim murdered his younger brother, Kim Jong-nam, at an airport in Kuala Lumpur as a message to China (as this site reported at the time, Chinese agents were supposed to be protecting the poor half-brother). It is the pro-Chinese elements within North Korea that we in the West should be most concerned with.
After all, the founder of the regime, Kim Il-sung, may have been murdered by his own crazed son, the aforementioned Kim Jong-il, in the 1990s because the patriarch and founder of North Korea was contemplating an entente with the United States following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the conversion of China to some semblance of capitalism in the early 1990s.
The death of Kim Il-sung, though, likely ended any chance of peace during that time–allowing for the militarists in Pyongyang more time to enrich themselves, gorge themselves on more power, and continue developing their nuclear weapons capability. Then, in 2012, Kim Jong-il conveniently died at a time when he was supposedly working on some form of rapprochement with the Obama Administration.
I believe that there is a sect of powerful military leaders in North Korea who are closely aligned with China and do not want any form of rapprochement with the West. These leaders support China unequivocally (because China lines their pockets and allows for them to pursue nuclear weapons which, these militarists in Pyongyang believe will grant them total victory over the South and allow for them to claim control over the entire Korean Peninsula). Each time a member of the Kim family flirts with peace with the West–as now Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim il-Sung have done at various points shortly before their end of life–this cabal of pro-China militarists step in and ensure that North Korea does not stabilize relations with the West.
Of course, it is always possible that this is inaccurate. Certainly, the fact that Kim Il-sung was old with heart trouble when he died (supposedly of heart troubles) should not be overlooked. And when Kim Jong-il flirted with opening negotiations with the Obama Administration, he was already in ill-health. Similarly, Kim Jong-un has had some health problems.
And with the novel coronavirus from Wuhan, China, running amuck in the region, coupled with Kim’s co-morbidities, it is possible that he was unlucky to have caught the illness which caused an assortment of respiratory complications. Then again, though, the commonality that all of these leaders at various points attempted to reach out to their interlocutors in the West–and that Kim Jong-un spent so much time brutally killing members of his government so closely associated with China–should not be overlooked.
It is possible that the sister, Kim Yo-Jong, sensing a pristine opportunity to catapult herself into power, would take advantage of the divide between her brother and the pro-China militarists who opposed Kim Jong-un’s rapprochement with President Donald Trump, by aligning with those pro-Beijing elements to cement her claim to power. If this is the case, then, the US needs to be ready not only for war with North Korea but also for a surprise nuclear engagement from North Korea–which surely has nuclear ICBM capabilities by this point (if I were Hawaii, I’d be particularly cautious right about now).
The United States must also not become too distracted by the mania of the Hermit Kingdom. The true threat is from the neighboring Middle Kingdom, China. North Korea is a sideshow. What’s more, the US must move greater naval forces into the region–even at the expense of its Iran policy. And if there is a grander conspiracy to replace the relatively friendly Kim Jong-un with a more militant, nastier Kim Yo-Jong or coalition government in Pyongyang that is pro-China, then one can anticipate greater levels of aggression from North Korea. That is why a space-based missile defense system is essential: to help guard against the threat of nuclear-arming rogue states.
One way or the other, conflict is coming. Be ready. North Korea is being subsumed by the Chinese. We will all be made to pay for that.