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North Korea: A critical moment for possible change?

  • AUTHORFan Jishe,
  • Oct 13, 2014

Where is Mr. Kim Jong Un, North Korea's No. 1? Everybody is guessing, but nobody knows for sure. Mr. Kim has been absent from public events for more than a month since his last recorded public appearance at a concert on Sept. 3. His disappearance has attracted significant attention worldwide, and intelligence agencies, pundits, media outlets, and netizens are all busy theorizing. Almost all observers of North Korea are doubtful of the government's official statement about Mr. Kim's "discomfort."

Basically, all the speculation about "where Mr. Kim has gone" arrives at one of two conclusions. The first is about "gout." Speculation over Kim's possible illness has been wild. Gout, hyperuricemia, hyperlipidemia, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure have all been presented as the reason for his absence. Some reports further explained that his ankle(s) may have fractured due to his obesity. The second is about "out." Mr. Kim did not show up to three very important events for North Korea: the Supreme People's Assembly, the meeting to mark the 17th anniversary of his father's election as general secretary of the Workers' Party, and the 69th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of North Korea. People have speculated that Kim might have been deposed and put under house arrest by Hwang Pyong So, North Korea's No.2. Others have speculated that his sister, Kim Yo Jong, is actually in charge of the country, and that Mr. Kim is only a figurehead now.

So is it "Gout" or "Out"? The answer remains a big question mark for all observers of North Korea. Mr. Kim's physical state and political status are certainly significant to the stability of this country and this region. However, the actual answer to the question may not matter all that much. There have been lots of signals of possible change in North Korea's diplomacy over the past several months, even before the "where has Mr. Kim gone" conundrum surfaced.

After launching a satellite and conducting its third nuclear test, North Korea suffered another round of strict sanctions which further isolated the country from the international community. China and North Korea's relationship is no longer in good shape, either. North Korea's official statements have been filled with thinly veiled harsh criticisms aimed at China because of China's support for the UN Security Council sanction resolutions. There is also a lot of information about North Korea's attitude toward China available if one reads between the lines of the accusation of Jang Song Thaek. The moves or lack of moves that have caused North Korea to sour include implementing the UN Security Council's sanction resolutions, China's warm hosting of South Korean President Park Geun-hye's visit to Beijing, President Xi's visit to Seoul, the lack of arrangements made for highest level meetings between Chinese and North Korean leadership, the reported cutoff in the oil supply to North Korea and China's position with regard to the resumption of Six Party Talks.

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