Media all over the world is starting to report that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is in a coma, probably on his deathbed now, and that his sister, Kim Yo Jong, is in position to take over the failed socialist state.
Sorry, guys… The name of the next North Korean dictator is not going to be heavily distinguishable from the last three.
Some months back it was being reported that Kim Jong Un was in bad health and rumors were flying that he was on his deathbed at that time too. In my opinion, and based on my previous intelligence experience working in Area 1 in South Korea during the time of Kim Jong Il’s death, his health probably was very bad and he was possibly close to death at that point too. Prolonged, unexplained absences of major party leaders in the DPRK are usually meaningful from an intelligence analysis standpoint, even if they’re not particularly interesting to casual readers. His absence earlier this year was probably meaningful and health related based on what I was reading at that time, and the recent reports of another coma and another forthcoming dirt nap sound like they have more evidence to them this time than last time. He’s also known for having bad health habits anyway, and having the best medical care the DPRK has to offer probably isn’t going to help his chances much.
In other words, I think this is the real deal, or a prelude to it. One thing to note is that we knew Kim Jong Il was dead at least several days before the media was able to confirm it. The DPRK Politburo has met with nearly unprecedented frequency this year and shuffled around some of the top officials into a more economic focused front. It would appear that there is some anticipation of a leadership change. To my knowledge there is no succession plan set in stone, and Kim Yo Jong may be a stop-gap plan as much as a long term leadership. We’ve all seen though how temporary leaders can tend to consolidate power and entrench themselves. The pattern of nepotism in the DPRK government is likely to continue.
As far as Kim Yo Jong, she grew up in North Korea in privilege and was schooled in Switzerland. Of course. She’s had increasing public appearances over the past 18 months as well. Honestly, none of the personal information about her is significant or meaningful to you or me. Kim Jong Un’s brother was possibly the next man up before he was assassinated with a nerve agent in Kuala Lumpur. Un’s wife, Ri Sol Ju is the “first lady, but isn’t likely to take the leadership herself.
The official number two man is named Choe Ryong Hae, and he is quite influential in the DPRK. However, the number two official does not often take over. Ri Yong Ho was high ranking general in the Politburo during my time in Korea and some thought he may try seize some large amount of power after Kim Jong Un took over. That was not the case. He was removed from his post and executed. I personally do not expect Choe Ryong Hae to take over unless he already has the support of the Politburo.
It remains to be seen what kind of approach our government will have towards the North Koreans if the change happens. I know the US forces in Korea are on high alert now, as they typically are, and my old friends in the G2 at CRC and 210 Fires up at Camp Casey are probably running through some exercises as we speak.