Kim Jong-un - Succession
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un hadn't been seen in publicly since April 11th - it had been about three weeks and new rumors about the mysterious leader pour in daily. The North Korean leader was dead. Or very ill. Or maybe he was just recuperating in his luxury compound, or isolating himself from the coronavirus. The truth is nobody knew for sure. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported 01 May 2020 that Kim Jong Un made his first public appearance in 20 days amid rumors about his health. Kim attended a ceremony marking the completion of a fertiliser factory in Suncheon, near the capital of Pyongyang, with other senior officials, including his sister, Kim Yo Jong.
The Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported 23 April 2020 that North Korea had been preparing a succession contingency plan since late 2019 in which power would transfer from Kim Jong-un to his younger sister. The report said the plenary meeting of the North Korean Workers’ Party central committee made an internal decision that should Kim Jong-un not be able to govern the country due to death or other reasons, all power will be given to Kim Yo-jong. The source said since then many orders under Kim Yo-jong’s name have been delivered to the party and the military.
In their analysis of North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly meeting held in mid-April 2020, south Korea's National Assembly Research Service said Kim Jong-un could give all his authority to his sister Kim Yo-jong. It is understood that Kim Yo-jong is already in charge of the ruling Workers Party's Organization and Guidance Department, exercising more power than anyone else in the party.
The research agency said the North Korean leader is likely to strengthen the power of sovereignty of his bloodline, known as the 'Baekdu bloodline', by giving his sister the role of his successor in times of national crisis such as his death. It added that starting from this year, she had already been responsible for the party as an independent political figure.
This suggests that as one of the Baekdu bloodline, Kim Yo-jong's status is likely to grow to fit the role of official successor. Earlier in 2020, she started making official statements toward South Korea and the United States. And she has been in the spotlight ever since the first reports speculating that Kim Jong-un might be seriously ill. But the thinktank said it is unlikely for Kim Yo-jong's ascent to supreme leadership to occur immediately, adding that it will need an official directive by Kim Jong-un.
What is described by Washington-based North Korea monitoring project 38 North as a special train possibly belonging to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is seen in a satellite image over Wonsan, North Korea April 23, 2020. US researchers say satellite images show that a special train belonging to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un remains parked in the same spot as the previous week. The research group 38 North released a report on 29 April 2020 analyzing satellite imagery taken earlier the same day. It focuses on an area thought to house Kim's compound in the eastern city of Wonsan. The report says that the train was observed parked at a station near the compound, in the same position it was seen on April 21 and 23. The group says the train's presence does not prove the whereabouts of the North Korean leader, but lends weight to multiple reports that Kim has been staying in the Wonsan area
Another possible figure who could be the North's next leader is Kim Pyong-il, Kim Jong-il's half-brother who returned home last year after decades of serving as a low-key ambassador in Europe. This possibility was backed up in a radio interview last week by Thae Yong-ho, the former number-2 diplomat at North Korea's London embassy who defected to South Korea a few years ago. Thae explained that North Korean officials in their 60s and 70s, who are the strongest supporters of the current system, see Kim Yo-jong as only a rookie politician.
Others speculate there could be another option, one who does not have the Kim family blood: Pak Pong-ju. Pak, the Vice Chairman of the State Affairs Commission is widely considered third in line, after the North Korean leader's younger sister. While Kim Jong-un has stayed out of public view for more than two weeks, North Korea's state media reported 28 April 2020 on Pak's public activity. According to the Korean Central News Agency, the premier made an on-site inspection of Kim Jong-suk Pyeongyang Textile Factory in the country's capital and other economy-related facilities. Pak was also last seen paying tribute at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun along with other top North Korean officials.
Meanwhile, according to Reuters, a North Korean economic delegation is set to visit Beijing this week to discuss food supplies and trade issues, as the COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the country's food supply. The delegation is headed there amid conflicting reports about the health of Kim Jong-un. Reuters cited anonymous sources as saying the visit is unrelated to Kim's health status. They added the delegation were already scheduled to meet with officials from China's Ministry of Commerce to discuss trade and bolstering food imports before questions surfaced about Kim's health.
Seoul's defense minister Jeong Kyeong-doo rejected the wide-ranging speculation carried by local and foreign media outlets regarding Kim Jong-un's health. Appearing before lawmakers 29 April 2020 in a parliamentary committee meeting, Jeong urged the public to have faith in the government's view that there is nothing out of the ordinary in North Korea.
Without revealing evidence about Kim Jong-un's whereabouts, Jeong said the assessment was based on all of its combined intel, adding that Kim's absence from the public view is nothing new. He noted that Kim at one point last year did not appear in public for 27 days, and that he was absent once this year for more than 15 days.
Jeong's remarks go against the widespread, unverified rumors about Kim's health fueled by Kim Jong-un's weeks-long absence, which included the Day of the Sun, an annual event celebrated on April 15th to mark the birthday of his late grandfather and North Korea's founder, Kim Il-sung.
This is usually the time of year the North holds a parade to show off its latest weaponry and military might. Every year since Kim Jong-un became leader, he had paid his respects along with his top aides at the Geumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyeongyang. The last time Kim made a public appearance in state media was on April 11th when he presided over a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers' Party.
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