Kim’s death could create refugee crisis
Military experts have warned that the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would destabilise the region, spark a refugee crisis and even lead to a civil war.
The state of the dictator's health has been the focus of rumours after his recent heart surgery and his failure to show up for a birthday commemoration of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung.
In an increasingly odd envrionment, North Korean state media have started publishing old comments made by Kim without mentioning his current location.
Retired South Korean special operations chief General Chun In-Bum said there would be dire consequences for North Korea if Kim died without a successor being formally identified.
There will be "chaos, human suffering, instability," General In-Bum told Military Times. "It's bad news for everyone."
But even if the overweight despot, 36, isn't on his death bed right now, he does appear to have health issues and a possible end to his rule would create turmoil, experts told the Military Times.
Although Kim has no named successor or heir apparent, his younger sister, senior ruling party official Kim Yo Jong, looks likely to be the most likely person to succeed her brother.
But there are also questions about whether a woman would be accepted as leader in the outlier nation, leading some experts to believe a collective leadership could be the outcome, ending the family's dynastic rule.
David Maxwell, a retired Special Forces colonel and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, said an American and South Korean military reaction to such an upheaval could require an effort that "will make Afghanistan and Iraq pale in comparison".
"It is unknown whether Kim Jong Un has designated a successor," Colonel Maxwell said. "We can speculate that perhaps his sister Kim Yo Jong has been designated as his successor based on her recent promotion and the fact she has begun making official statements in her name beginning last month."
But it is unknown, he added, "whether a woman, despite being part of the Paektu bloodline could become the leader of the Kim family regime".
A regime breakdown would leave the US and South Korea to pick up the pieces, Co Maxwell said.
The consequences of such a "humanitarian disaster" emerging in North Korea at the same time as COVID-19 is unthinkable, he said.
"South Korea, China, and Japan are going to have to deal with potential large scale refugee flows," he said. "Units of the North Korean People's Army are going to compete for resources and survival. This will lead to internal conflict among units and could escalate to widespread civil war."
He warned that North Korea's military would continue to fight to defend the nation.
"Since North Korea is a Guerrilla Dynasty built on the myth of anti-Japanese partisan warfare, we can expect large numbers of the military (1.2 million active duty and 6 million reserves) to resist any and all outside foreign intervention including from South Korea."
Gen Chun mostly backed Maxwell's grim predictions about refugees and a possible civil war in the north, but did not see a US-South Korean military incursion past the 38th Parallel.
"What are we going to do? March in there? Let the Chinese do it," Gen Chun said.
"The DPRK is a sovereign country. Anyone going in there, including the Chinese, would be crazy. The ROK-US has a bad plan with bad assumptions. It will get us into a nuclear war," he insisted.
KIM'S 'ALTER EGO' SISTER A 'DICTATOR-IN-WAITING'
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un's younger sister has been described as "his alter ego" protégé, and now potential successor should the dictator die from complications from his recent heart surgery.
Kim Yo-jong, who is said to be about 31 years-old, has been seen to become more powerful in recent months, even before her brother underwent the surgery, making an official statement attacking South Korea after it raised concerns about North Korea's live-fire rocket artillery exercise last month
Filled with insults and put downs, it was her first known public statement in her capacity as a first vice-department director of the ruling Workers Party's Central Committee.
Ms Kim has been described as North Korea's top propaganda official and the statement has been interpreted as an elevation of her status and influence.
Ms Kim came to world attention in 2018 when she attended summits with US President Donald Trump, the President of South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Chinese president Xi Jinping about her country's nuclear arsenal.
There was speculation after the summit that she had risen to the number two position in her brother's regime making her the most powerful woman in North Korea.
She was seen that year at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the first member of North Korea's ruling family to visit the south since the Korean War in the 1950s and then again last year, in a bizarre photo shoot with her brother and his wife riding a white horse on a North Korean mountainside.
Like the rest of the family, little is known about her background.
She is believed to be between 29 and 31 and is the youngest child of former leader Kim Jong-il and his consort Ko Yong-hui a former dancer. Ms Kim was said to have announced she was pregnant with her second child during her appearance at the Olympics, but there has been no official confirmation. The identity of her husband has also never been revealed.
Ms Kim was partly educated in Switzerland but returned to North Korea after completing grade six.
Her first public appearance was at the funeral of her father in 2011, who once bragged that his youngest daughter was interested in politics and was keen for a role in the governing party.
Since then she has been seen as instrumental in helping her brother to cement his position as leader.
FEARS GROW FOR KIM JUNG-UN
Meanwhile, fears are growing for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who has not been seen publicly after he underwent a cardiovascular procedure early this month.
The rogue leader was recently absent from a key anniversary event.
North Korea marked the anniversary of the birthday of its founding father and Kim's grandfather, Kim Il-sung, as a national holiday on April 15, but Kim was not seen in attendance.
Daily NK, a speciality website run mostly by North Korean defectors, cited unidentified sources inside the isolated state saying Kim is recovering at a villa in the Mount Kumgang resort county of Hyangsan on the east coast after getting the procedure on April 12 at a hospital there.
Reporting from inside North Korea is notoriously difficult, especially on matters concerning the country's leadership, given tight controls on information.
South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, declined to comment on the report.
Kim's health has deteriorated in recent months due to heavy smoking, obesity and overwork, the Daily NK report said.
"My understanding is that he had been struggling (with cardiovascular problems) since last August but it worsened after repeated visits to Mount Paektu," a source was quoted as saying, referring to the country's sacred mountain.
Kim left for the hospital after presiding over a meeting of the ruling Workers' Party's politburo on April 11, where Kim was publicly last seen, the report said.
Pyongyang fired multiple short-range missiles last week which Seoul officials said were also part of the Kim Il-sung birthday celebration.
Such military events would usually be observed by Kim, but there was no KCNA report on the test at all.
Kim Jong-il's absence from a parade celebrating North Korea's 60th anniversary in 2008 fuelled speculation about his health.
It was later revealed he had a stroke, after which his health continued to decline.
He later died in 2011.
Originally published as Kim's death could create refugee crisis