North Korea Update: 27 April, 2020

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They say that no news is good news, but North Korea is an exception to the rule. In the case of the secretive, hermit kingdom no news is never good. Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s ruler, has entirely disappeared from public view in the last few weeks. He missed a pair of high-profile national holidays, fueling speculation that Kim is not well. Reports surfaced contending he suffered complications following a cardiovascular procedure earlier this month and is now in a vegetative state. Next came reports of a Chinese medical team being dispatched to North Korea to help Kim Jong Un, further adding to concerns about the present state of his health. While much of this has been happening, the South Korean government continues to state its belief that Kim is alive and well and nothing out of the ordinary is happening up north.

The latest morsel in the juicy, ongoing drama is a note purportedly penned by the Supreme Leader himself giving thanks to construction workers and officials at the Wonsan-Kalma tourist resort. North Korean media reported news of the message less than a day after Kim’s personal train was spotted on satellite photographs in the Wonsan area.

Amid all of this, panic buying has apparently gripped Pyongyang with residents stocking up on various items from liquor to canned fish. Given that access to retail stores in Pyongyang is largely limited to government officials and their family members, this suggests that Kim is either deceased or incapacitated and an internal struggle for power is either underway or about to begin. There have also been reports of helicopters flying low over Pyongyang, and train service around the country has been disrupted. This could also suggest a power struggle is taking place behind the scenes.

For what it’s worth, my personal opinion is that Kim Jong Un is either no longer among the living or is severely incapacitated. It is widely believed that his sister Kim Yo Jong has been groomed to succeed him, but there are other possible candidates as well. Right now, a struggle for the crown, so to speak, is probably underway in Pyongyang. Until it is complete, and a new leader selected, I expect no hard news to come out of North Korea.

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