Rumors abound that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un died recently after a botched heart surgery.
“It’s a closed society. I haven’t heard anything directly, but I’ll be shocked if he’s not dead or in some incapacitated sate because you don’t let rumors like this go forever or go unanswered in a closed society,” said South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (R).
A South Korean official on Sunday told CNN that Kim was “alive and well,” but the dictator hasn’t been seen in public since April 11th. He reportedly underwent heart surgery on April 12th, a procedure made necessary by heavy smoking and obesity. Shortly after, CNN claimed Kim was in “grave danger.”
At least one official from China claimed he had died. Satellite images released by website 38 North appear to show Kim Jong-un’s personal train parked in Wonsan area since last week, suggesting he could be recovering from surgery or self-isolating at a resort there.
Rumors about Kim’s health intensified when he failed to make an appearance this Saturday as the nation celebrated the founding of the Korean People’s Army in 1932. He also missed a commemoration of the 108th birthday of his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, on April 15th.
Kim’s most likely successor is his closest adviser and younger sister, Kim Yo-jong. Unfortunately, she has much in common with her brother and has already been blacklisted by the US for “severe human rights abuses.”
Kim Yo-jong is known for pushing North Korean propaganda and for helping implement strict censorship policies. She has made several public appearances with her brother and is already involved in relations with the US and South Korea. In South Korea, they call her the ‘Ivanka Trump of North Korea.’
If Kim Yo-jong succeeds her brother, she will be the nation’s first female ruler since its founding by Kim Il-sung, her grandfather, in 1948.
There’s also the possibility that Kim Jong-un’s death will result in civil war, a refugee crisis, and/or a military clash between the US and China.
“Potential events there – and any US response to them – will be watched from Beijing closely, and seen in a broader context of intensifying US-China strategic competition,” writes National Interest contributor Malcom Davis. “Already, China seems intent on exploiting US vulnerabilities after COVID-19, and any unrest inside North [Korea] would dramatically boost the risk of a wider conflict.”