What Happens to North Korea Now?

Linnette Cruz 9th

Since its discovery in December 2019, countries all over the world have been experiencing the turmoil and overall impact that the novel coronavirus – also known as COVID-19 – has had on the world. Despite coronavirus threats, a new problem has arisen for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: Kim Jong Un. The ruthless dictator that leads with an iron fist is reported by South Korean officials to be in a “fragile” condition after undergoing cardiovascular surgery earlier this month.

Rumors about the 36-year-old dictator’s health first started circling around when he missed the birthday celebration of the founder of North Korea, Kim Il Sung – his grandfather – for the first time in his eight-year reign on April 15th. 

It is incredibly hard to know what’s really going on in North Korea. Officials and media are still not sure if these reports are credible, but it is not surprising that the supreme leader is in poor health. As reported by Daily NK, Kim Jong Un has had a long struggle with cardiovascular problems since August, caused by “excessive smoking, obesity, and overwork.” Nevertheless, other sources in North Korea have not confirmed the reports although it has gained massive amounts of international coverage. 

So the real question is: what will happen to North Korea if dictator Kim Jong Un perished? The Kim family dynasty has ruled over North Korea since 1948, first established by Kim Il Sung after claiming the title of being the independent leader of international communism. Since then, three generations of Kim’s have ruled for the last seven decades, and if Kim Jong Un dies, there might be a new tyrant reigning over North Korea. 

Although there is hardly any evidence to support these claims because North Korea is so cut off from the outside world, it is speculated that Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong will take over the succession if he dies unexpectedly. 

So you’re probably wondering: why is succession so difficult and confusing in North Korea? The supreme leader’s personal life is the greatest secret kept under wraps. In dictatorships, heredity of power isn’t common, so the fact that North Korea has managed to pull it off twice in a row is extremely intriguing. Kim Jong Un’s children are too young to rule, and his older brother Kim Jong Nam is out of the question since he was assassinated in 2017 at Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia after two women smeared Kim’s face with VX, a banned nerve agent. It is rumored that this assassination was orchestrated by his brother. Kim Yo Jong, at age 31, serves as the first vice-department director of the Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee, who has been increasing her role in the Kim dynasty ever since she represented North Korea at the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games (Everington, 2020). 

It is well known that North Korea has one of the most powerful and largest conventional military forces that have caused the world concern time and time again. Why does the United States care so much about what happens to North Korea? The U.S. heavily depends on South Korea for intelligence on the North. If Kim is unable to continue his duties as supreme leader, the U.S. would want to have its own intelligence department set up in North Korea so that they could keep up with all major things going on. Additionally, when North Korea launched missiles in 2016 and 2017, then U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis put military pressure on the country, deploying three aircraft carriers to waters near the Korean Peninsula. Nonetheless, Trump insists that he has a personal relationship with Kim and that the U.S. is in the clear with North Korea (Kosaka, 2019). If Kim dies due to his medical conditions, whoever ends up controlling his nuclear arsenal is a matter of utmost importance. Whatever the state of Kim Jong Un’s health and whoever is the next potential leader, there is only one goal that the U.S. plans on achieving: the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Just like the U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said, “whoever is leading North Korea, we want them to give up their nuclear program.”

Nevertheless, the probability of Kim Jong Un dying anytime soon is very unlikely. It is no surprise that rumors about North Korea are put in speculation, especially since little is known about the country in the first place. However, in the event that Kim dies and his sister takes over, it may not represent a major change to the way that North Korea is governed today. It is presumed that she is more totalitarian and domineering than her father, despite the fact that there is always the gender issue when regarding Korean culture. Nonetheless, it is up to time and effort to determine what really goes on and what will happen to North Korea in the future. 

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